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How Often Should Your Business Run Payroll?

How Frequently Should You Process Payroll?
Credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

Businesses have a lot of options when it comes to how often they pay their employees. Whether it is every week, every two weeks or once a month, there are a lot of factors business owners must consider when deciding how often to run payroll. Company size, legal requirements, payroll budget, whether employees are salaried or hourly are just some of the key considerations.

There are four different payroll schedules you can choose from.

  • Weekly: Payroll is paid every week. This is typically the most expensive schedule for employers.
  • Biweekly: Employees are paid every two weeks, typically on a Friday. It is the second most expensive payroll schedule.
  • Semimonthly/Bimonthly: This payroll schedule is often confused with biweekly; however, employees are paid twice monthly, typically on the 1st and 15th or the 15th and 31st. It is the second least expensive payroll schedule.
  • Monthly: Employees are paid at the end of each month. While this is the least preferred payment schedule for workers, for employers, it's the least expensive option.

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According to Steffi Wu, a spokesperson for online payroll provider Gusto, the type of worker your business employs – salaried vs. hourly – also significantly impacts your payroll schedule. "Companies that mostly employ hourly employees typically run payroll more frequently, for example," Wu told Business News Daily.

Laurent Sellier, vice president and business leader of QuickBooks Payroll, said salaried employees who receive a set amount each period are best off being paid semimonthly.

Sellier added that a business's payroll schedule also depends on the overall size of the company. Smaller businesses that employ fewer workers may be able to get away with a more frequent payroll schedule. However, as your business grows, your needs may change.

"As companies grow larger and take on more headcount, a biweekly payroll schedule is typically the preferred schedule for a number of reasons, including cost savings, and it simplifies reconciliation," said Sellier.

There are both federal and state requirements small business owners must follow when deciding how often to pay employees. These laws establish other important payroll requirements, such as minimum wage rates and overtime. The Fair Labor Standards Act, said Sellier, does not dictate how often a business can pay employees, as long as employers pay employees for the hours they have worked. However, he noted that individual state laws may vary.

"Most states set either a weekly, biweekly, or semimonthly payday schedule," said Sellier. "For example, states like Nebraska and Pennsylvania allow the employer to designate paydays. Arizona, [however], requires employers to pay employees twice a month but 16 days apart."

According to Wu, cost-associated factors, like business cash flow and available debit schedules, typically guide payroll schedules. Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach for processing payroll, your costs will vary based on a number of factors, such as tax requirements, the number of employees, service bundles and, sometimes, your current payroll frequency.

The costs of running payroll exceed the fee the payroll company will charge you. Keep in mind there are additional administrative costs you'll be responsible for. Add-on fees you'll incur each time you run payroll may include, among others, printing paper checks, data entry and direct deposit charges.

As a small business owner, there are some risks you face processing payroll yourself or having an employee process payroll for your business. The three biggest pitfalls include:

  • Misclassification: According to Sellier, employers sometimes misclassify the type of worker they are running payroll for. For example, you might pay someone as a contractor when the law says they should be paid as an employee. As the employer, it is your responsibility to review employee classifications and ensure you are accurate and compliant in classifying and paying employees.
  • Miscalculating overtime: Managing overtime can be a challenge for many employers, said Sellier. This includes either not paying overtime or paying it incorrectly. To avoid miscalculating overtime payments, properly monitor employee hours and the overtime pay rate.
  • Late payment: Completing payroll on time is a common complication and can be especially difficult for small businesses. This can be avoided by outsourcing your payroll.

According to Wu, many complications can be mitigated by using a payroll system that does the tricky work for you. This includes choosing a payroll system that can automate your payroll and file and pay taxes for you.

Finally, when determining how often your business should run payroll, keep in mind that you can pay salary and hourly employees at a different rate, and this might be necessary, depending on your business.

Most payroll companies give you the option to update or change your payroll schedule, so if you decide your current schedule isn't the best option for your business, you are free to make the switch.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a Business Communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four different states and backpacking throughout 16 different countries. During her travels, Skye began a blog at www.skyeschooley.com. She now resides in the arctic tundra that is the northeast coast, writing for Business.com.