What is Supplemental Pay? Which is Better For Me | Fully Explained

If you’ve heard the term “supplemental pay” and assumed it referred to an unusual form of compensation granted in unique situations (and didn’t apply to your organization), reconsider. 

Your employer engages in supplemental compensation, whether it provides stock, severance benefits, or bonuses; you should take advantage of this in the “year of the performance bonus.” 

Additionally, supplemental wages are subject to multiple tax classifications, so you want to ensure you don’t incur any tax obligations.

There are many things to consider, but you shouldn’t become anxious. In this article, we’ll explain what supplemental pay is, why it’s important for businesses of all kinds, and give you some instances of what does and doesn’t count.

What is supplemental pay?

In addition to the employee’s usual basic wage, they may receive supplemental pay. 

Overtime pay, incentive pay, bonuses, accrued sick pay, or any other payment made in addition to a person’s normal salary are all considered supplemental compensation. 

However, they consider health insurance and other employee benefits supplemental earnings because they fall under non-wage remuneration.

Remember that additional wages are taxable income, and businesses are responsible for monitoring supplemental pay, accurately reporting it, and deducting the proper amount of federal income tax.

For instance, in the US, employers must deduct federal unemployment tax from supplemental pay and Social Security and Medicare obligations under the Federal Insurance Obligations Act (FICA).

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How do supplemental wages differ from regular wages?

The tax treatment of supplemental pay may differ from that of ordinary income depending on the nation of employment. 

The procedures for withholding taxes from supplemental payments often rely on the number of supplemental wages an employee receives annually and whether those supplemental wages are coupled with or maintained apart from their regular pay.

Let’s think about a business in the United States. The IRS requires you to withhold federal income tax at a fixed rate of 22% for supplemental earnings up to US$1 million if you give your employees a bonus in a separate bonus check. 

However, what if you distribute the bonus as a lump sum (a total of supplementary and regular salaries) in the same check without designating it as a bonus?

In that situation, tax withholding will be determined based on the withholding allowance that the employee indicated on their W-4 form.

The bonus is not taxed differently, even if this may place an employee’s earnings in a new tax category.

Why is supplemental pay important?

Supplemental salaries assist businesses in luring, retaining, and rewarding new and existing employees without relying solely on their regular pay and salary increases to inspire them. 

And what’s one of the most crucial things your business can do about overtime pay? Talk about it with your group. 

Even though your employees know this information from their contracts, it’s crucial to talk with them to make sure they understand how additional compensation functions inside your company. 

Through an employee survey or in-person meetings between managers and reports, you can start this discussion and find out what they think about the supplemental compensation offers made by your organization. 

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What qualifies as supplemental pay?

It is up to a company’s leadership and compensation planning staff to lay out the specifics of its supplemental pay plan because supplemental wages can take many different forms of remuneration. 

The IRS states that the following constitutes additional pay in the United States:

Overtime pay 

Employees who work over a standard 40-hour workweek are entitled to overtime pay.

The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) mandates that businesses pay employees 1.5 times their regular compensation rate for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours. This is especially true for workers who are paid hourly rather than salary.

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Accumulated sick leave

Employers who provide paid sick leave to their staff members can pay out any unused sick time as extra pay.

The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) does not mandate paid sick leave at the federal level; its policies and state regulations govern a company’s obligation to provide paid sick time.

Severance pay

If both the employer and the employee agree to it in the employment contract, the employee fired from their job may be entitled to severance pay. 

Businesses frequently offer this to ease the transition out of work and prevent any negative feelings between the company and the former employee. 

Depending on how the company has set up its severance package, severance pay may be given as a lump sum or distributed over some time in the form of checks.

Retroactive pay increases

A payout to an employee to make up the difference between the amount they received in a prior pay period and what they were owed is known as a retroactive pay rise. 

This can occur when a worker receives a raise at the end of a pay period, but it isn’t shown in their paycheck until the next pay period.

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Bonuses are additional compensation payments made to employees as a performance incentive or motivating incentive.

A company’s retention strategy frequently includes bonuses, and popular forms of bonuses include signing referrals and retention bonuses.

Each business decides whether to give out bonuses through cash or stock options.

Equity pay

Equity pay, or compensation in the form of firm stock options, is a preferred supplemental pay approach for start-ups and expanding businesses, especially those that can’t offer base salaries or other taxable fringe benefits at competitive rates. 

A corporation invites people to wager on their future success when they issue bonuses in the form of stock options; occasionally, but not always, this pays off.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is an easy statistic to introduce and use if you want to know how your employees feel about your present pay structures, supplemental pay packages, and the firm as a whole.

What doesn’t qualify as supplemental pay?

Stipends, vacation pay, and paid time off are not considered to be supplemental benefits. Vacation pay and PTO are subject to the same income tax withholdings as regular compensation.

  • Stipends are regular payments made to employees for certain needs, including travel, child care, or non-deductible relocation costs. A stipend is not considered supplemental compensation because it is not given in exchange for labor; its primary purpose is to help employees with expenses.
  • Vacation pay: Although an employee receives vacation pay while not working, it is not considered additional compensation because it is considered a component of their normal income.
  • Paid time off (PTO): Compensation for all absences from work, including sick and personal days, is provided. As with vacation pay, it counts as a component of an employee’s basic income and is not extra compensation.

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How do supplemental wages differ from regular wages?

Regular wages are those that an employer pays during a payroll period at a regular hourly rate or in a predetermined fixed amount. 

Regular earnings have a tax table for the pay period (biweekly), and the number of exemptions claimed on the employee’s IRS Form W-4 determines the amount to be withheld.  

To put it another way, supplemental earnings are payments that vary from pay period to pay period based on factors other than the amount of time worked.

Supplemental wages include things like overtime pay, bonuses, back pay, commissions, wages paid under a reimbursement or other expense allowance plans, nonqualified deferred compensation, noncash fringe benefits, sick pay provided by a third party on the employer’s behalf, amounts included in gross income under IRC section 409A, income realized upon exercising a nonstatutory stock option, and imputed income for health insurance for a non-dependent.

What is a supplemental paycheck?

A supplemental check includes all of the following: vacation pay, bonuses, commissions, and termination money. You don’t make these payments simultaneously with your regular paycheck.

You can decide whether to include the supplemental compensation in your normal paycheck or receive it in a separate check.

How are supplemental wages taxed?

To calculate the taxes to be withheld from supplemental earnings, employers must combine all of the employee’s wages (supplemental and regular).  

Separate supplemental income from normal salary and deduct a 25% flat tax. The IRS prohibits using any other rate.  

You might also perform a challenging computation to compute the separate tax withholding on supplemental and regular pay.  

If the supplemental wages do not exceed $1 million, employers may decide to combine and tax all overtime compensation or use the flat 25% rate.

The employer must withhold a 37 percent tax on the amount over $1 million if the additional wages are in excess of that amount.

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Percentage method

Using a percentage-based approach, this is how your employer will proceed if, like me, you receive your bonus money in a check that is distinct from your regular paycheck. 

For simplicity’s sake, your company only deducts tax at a flat rate of 22% (if over $1 million, the highest rate of income tax for the year is applied, which is now 37%).

They can use this approach to handle additional income from commissions, severance pay, overtime, and other sources as well.

Aggregate method

Your company will use this method if your regular paycheck includes your bonus. Based on the information you supplied on your W-4, your employer will withhold tax from your bonus and regular pay.

You will receive more money than usual. Thus your company will deduct more money from your pay than usual.

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Why are supplemental wages taxed differently?

Depending on how your employer divides the money, they can withhold taxes differently from the rest of your paycheck.  

One lump sum payment. Considering your current tax allowances, your employer may withhold federal income tax from the supplemental income if it is combined with your normal wage in a single payment.  

You must make payment separately. Regardless of your regular tax withholding rate, if you get supplemental income in a separate payment, they permit employers to withhold income tax at a flat rate of 22% under IRS regulations.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does supplemental imply additional?

When describing anything extra, you can use the term supplementary. You may offer to give your assortment of markers and colored pencils to a nearby school needing extra art supplies. When there is a lack of a defect, something additional is to add.

What exactly does supplementary on a check mean?

Regular wages are the salaries an employer pays employees during a payroll period, either at a regular hourly rate or in a predefined fixed sum. Supplemental wages are payments made from one pay period to the next that are not considered regular wages. Additional compensation examples include Rewards, such as ratification bonuses, etc.

What is the rate of the additional wage tax?

As shown above, the federal supplemental wage tax rate in 2020 is 22 percent for everyone else and 37 percent for individuals with supplemental wages over $1 million.
Rates of the state’s additional wage tax can change. Employers should consult the most recent state income tax chart on supplemental rates from Ernst & Young. Remember that certain states have a tax bracket based on the supplemental wage amount, so be sure to check the laws in your local jurisdiction.

Who should report supplemental wages?

Tracking and reporting extra compensation is your duty as an employer. Therefore, it’s crucial that you keep track of how much additional compensation you give each employee. 
It also entails documenting:
– The sum of an employee’s additional pay throughout a tax year.
– Whether you treat an employee’s supplemental pay as part of their regular pay or separately.


Every company is responsible for compensating their workers for their time with regular salaries. However, many also decide to provide further compensation.

You may improve your employer brand to attract and retain people by providing a benefits package that includes extra means of payment.

In fact, many Americans assert that extra benefits are at least as significant as pay when assessing work chances.



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