How Are Bonuses Taxed? Understanding the Bonus Tax Rate

By Timothy Moore · October 18, 2023 · 8 minute read

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How Are Bonuses Taxed? Understanding the Bonus Tax Rate

Earning a bonus at work can be a reason to celebrate, but keep in mind that the money gets taxed, just like regular income. While you may be told the gross amount that’s coming your way, the amount you actually deposit can be significantly less once the withholding comes out.

So how does your employer calculate how much to withhold from your bonus? Learn the details here, including:

•   Why are bonuses taxed?

•   How are bonuses taxed?

•   Are taxes on bonuses higher than standard income taxes?

•   What can you do to lower the taxes on a bonus?

Why Are Bonuses Taxed?

The answer to “Why are bonuses taxed?” is simple, albeit a bit circular: The IRS considers bonuses to be taxable income.

The IRS doesn’t categorize bonuses as regular wages, however; instead, it labels bonuses as “supplemental wages,” meaning there are specific guidelines for employers when withholding taxes.

That said, there are two different ways that a bonus can be taxed, which may or may not impact which tax bracket you’re in.

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How Are Bonuses Taxed?

All bonuses — whether performance-based, sign-on, or holiday — are subject to income taxes, just like regular income. But how are bonuses taxed, numerically speaking?

Because bonuses are folded into Box 1 (“Wages, tips, other compensation”) on your W-2 tax form, you’ll likely wind up paying the same amount of taxes on the bonus as the rest of your income.

However, your employer may have withheld money from your bonus check differently from how it withholds taxes from regular earnings. That means when you receive the bonus payment, there could be a larger or smaller percentage of tax withheld than you’re used to.

Employers have two methods for withholding taxes on bonus payments:

1.    The percentage method

2.    The aggregate method

Recommended: Tax Season 2023: A Guide to Understanding Your Taxes

The Percentage Method

Many employers use the percentage method to withhold taxes from bonus payments. Why? Because it’s much easier for the employer.

For this method, the IRS allows companies to withhold a flat 22% rate of bonus payouts. It’s straightforward math for employers, nice and easy! They don’t have to check the recipient’s details, such as the salary and tax bracket.

A couple of points to consider:

•   If you earn $89,075 or more as an individual, a 22% rate might be lower than your usual tax withholdings.

•   If you earn $41,775 or less as an individual, however, it might be higher than your usual tax withholdings.

•   The flat 22% applies to all bonuses equal to $1 million or less.

•   If your bonus is larger than $1 million, your employer is required to use this method — and taxes on a bonuses above $1 million are computed at a flat 37% rate.

And remember: Just because your employer withholds 22% of your bonus, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you actually owe. When you file your tax return, you may find that you overpaid (and are due a refund) or underpaid (and owe additional money). This will typically depend on your tax bracket and how much you’ve already paid through other withholdings and/or estimated quarterly payments.

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The Aggregate Method

If your employer tacks your bonus payment onto your regular paycheck, the company can instead use the aggregate method to withhold a portion of the bonus.

In this bonus taxation scenario, your employer would treat this combination payment as a regular (but larger) paycheck and withhold funds based on the withholding specifications on your W-4. That is, it would withhold the percentage of your paycheck for tax purposes that reflects your exemptions and filing status.

Recommended: How to File Your Taxes for the First Time

Can You Lower the Taxable Amount on a Bonus?

If your regular wages are your primary (or only) source of income, it’s easy to estimate which tax bracket you’ll be in when you go to file — and you can set up tax withholdings based on that estimate.

But if you receive a large, unexpected bonus that increases your income enough, you might graduate to a higher tax bracket for that excessive income. This means you would owe more in taxes and may have underpaid throughout the year.

For that reason, you may want to lower your taxes on your bonus. While you can’t ask the IRS to tax your bonus less, you can look for ways to lower your taxable income for the year so that you stay within a lower tax bracket.

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Tips for Lowering the Amount You Are Taxed on a Bonus

So you’ve just received a hefty bonus check but are concerned about paying taxes on it, especially if it’s large enough to bump you up to a higher tax rate. What can you do? Here are some ways to handle the tax burden:

•   Anticipating the bonus: If your total compensation includes an anticipated bonus, you can submit a W-4 with your employer at any point to increase withholdings throughout the year to account for the bonus you’ll eventually earn. It won’t lower your taxable income, but by withholding slightly more money from each paycheck, you may be able to avoid owing a large amount when you go to file your taxes. Making sure your W-4 is up to date is an important part of preparing for tax season.

•   Investing your bonus in a tax-advantaged account: An easy way to avoid paying taxes on your bonus is to invest it in a tax-advantaged account, like a 401(k) or traditional IRA. Money invested in these is pre-tax, and it’s usually a good idea to save money for retirement anyway.

   Depending on your health insurance plan, you may also be able to contribute to a health savings account (HSA) for medical costs. An HSA is also a tax-advantaged account.

•   Donating your bonus: You could use your bonus to make an end-of-year donation to a charity. That can be a tax deduction that would lower your taxable income. Of course, that means you don’t get to keep the money, but if you’re passionate about a nonprofit, it may be worth it to hand over your bonus.

   Keep in mind, however, you can only deduct charitable contributions if you’re itemizing deductions. This strategy won’t work if you plan to take the standard deduction.

•   Working with an accountant: Paying for an accountant can get expensive, but they may have additional strategies to help you reduce your taxable income. On top of that, they can help you analyze your bonus to make sure you actually have to pay taxes on it. All monetary bonuses are indeed taxable, but the IRS doesn’t tax certain fringe benefits from employers, such as tickets for entertainment events.

•   Deferring your bonus: This might sound odd, but you could ask your employer to defer your bonus until next year. This would allow you to update tax withholdings in the new year so you’re prepared for the additional income. In addition, it would enable you to focus on tax deductions and tax-advantaged investments during the next tax year to reduce your taxable income.

   Also, if you expect to make less in the following year, it could be beneficial to receive your bonus then — there’s less risk of getting bumped up to a higher tax bracket.

The Takeaway

Earning a bonus can be great: It’s money that you weren’t guaranteed or perhaps even expecting, and now you can use it to fund emergency savings, pay down debt, invest for retirement, or even treat yourself to something nice. But just remember: Bonuses are subject to income taxes, so Uncle Sam will take a chunk out of the check.

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How much is the typical yearly bonus?

The typical yearly bonus depends entirely on your employer, industry, job level, job performance, and salary. Often, employers pay bonuses as a portion of your job salary.

If you want to see what other employees in your industry typically make for bonuses, you can look at employee-reported salary data on job sites such as Glassdoor and

How can bonuses impact your finances?

If you aren’t expecting a bonus and receive one, this could be a major boost to your finances. You could stash the unanticipated bonus in your emergency fund, contribute to a retirement account or HSA, or even spend it on yourself or your family, purchasing something you couldn’t otherwise afford.

However, remember that bonuses are taxable income. Your employer likely took out 22% already to cover the taxes. However, if the bonus is large enough to put your income over a certain threshold, you might move up in tax brackets and owe more than expected when you go to file.

Are there bonuses that are not taxable?

The IRS considers bonuses to be taxable income. Any cash bonus will be subject to income taxes. However, the IRS has exceptions for what it calls “de minimis fringe benefits,” which include things like:

•   Occasional food, such as doughnuts in the morning or a meal for a lunch and learn

•   Tickets to a sporting event or concert

•   Group-term life insurance for your spouse or dependent (as long as the face value is $2,000 or less)

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SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

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