What Is the Difference Between Net Pay and Gross Pay?

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Gross pay refers to the amount of money you receive before any deductions are taken out of your paycheck, while net pay is the amount of your pay after all your deductions, taxes, and payroll contributions have come out. On most paycheck stubs, the amount of your gross pay appears towards the top of the stub, while the net pay is located at the bottom of the stub (after a list of applicable deductions).

How to Calculate Gross Pay

To calculate your gross pay, you need to know whether you’re paid hourly or a specific salary. You also need to know the length of your payroll period and how much you’ve worked (if you’re paid hourly).

If you’re paid hourly, you’ll take your hourly wage and multiply it by the number of hours that you work during the payroll period. For example, assume you make $25 an hour and over a period of two weeks, you work 80 hours. When you multiply 80 by $25, you get a gross pay of $2,000.

Some employees receive different hourly rates depending on the time of day they’re working, what job they’re doing, and whether they’re receiving overtime pay. Assume that over two weeks, you worked 80 hours at $25 an hour and 10 hours at $37.50. Your gross pay is now $2,375.

If you’re a salaried employee, you’ll divide your annual salary by the number of paychecks you receive to determine your gross pay. Imagine your gross salary is $60,000 and you get paid twice a month. This means that your gross pay is $2,500 each paycheck.

How to Calculate Net Pay

Once you know your gross pay, you can calculate your net pay by subtracting your tax withholding, pre-tax deductions, and post-tax deductions. Pre-tax deductions are items subtracted from your gross pay before your tax liability is calculated. Post-tax deductions are expenses subtracted from your paycheck after your pre-tax deductions and tax liability have been deducted.

Suppose your gross pay is $2,000. Your pre-tax deductions amount to $400, your tax liability amounts to 20% of your pay after accounting for pre-tax deductions, and you have $50 in post-tax deductions. Start by subtracting $400 from your $2,000 gross pay; this will amount to $1,600.

To determine your tax obligation, multiply 20% by $1,600 to calculate your tax withholding of $320. After your tax withholding and pre-tax deductions, you’re left with $1,280. Subtract your $50 post-tax deduction and you’re left with $1,230. Your net pay is $1,230. 

Note that this example greatly simplifies deductions for your tax obligation. You can get an estimate for these figures by utilizing a paycheck calculator or by consulting previous paychecks.

Pre-Tax Items That Affect Your Net Pay

Pre-tax items are taken out of your paycheck before taxes are withheld from your pay and lower your overall taxable income. Some pre-tax items are exempt from all types of taxes, while others are only exempt from a certain type of tax (like state or federal income tax).d

Here are some of the most common pre-tax items:

  • Contributions to pre-tax retirement accounts
  • Premiums for health, dental and vision insurance plans
  • Contributions to pre-tax health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts
  • Deductions for commuter benefits

Post-Tax Items That Affect Your Net Pay

Post-tax items don’t have the tax benefits of pre-tax deductions, but they still lower your net pay. Some employees find that it’s convenient to have expenses automatically taken out of their paychecks, while other post-tax deductions may be court-ordered (like wage garnishments).

Frequent post-tax deductions include:

  • Post-tax retirement contributions (such as a Roth 401(k))
  • Life and disability insurance premiums
  • Court-ordered garnishments
  • Charitable donations
  • Union dues

How to Increase Your Net Pay

If you need to increase your net pay, you can do so by adjusting your pre- and post-tax deductions or your tax withholding. For example, if you currently contribute to a pre-tax retirement plan and a pre-tax health savings account, stopping these deductions will increase the amount of your net pay. Note that decreasing your pre-tax deductions typically increases the amount of your tax withholding because you have more taxable income.

Another way to boost your net pay is to lower your tax withholding. If you receive an income tax refund, you can adjust your tax withholding so that you have less taxes withheld and receive a higher net pay. Assume your tax refund is usually $3,000 and you get paid bi-monthly; adjusting your tax withholding so that your estimated refund is $0 will add $125 to each paycheck.