How To Read a Pay Stub

Where your pay goes before you get to take it home

This illustration features items included on a pay stub including "Income," "Rate," Hours," "Current Total," "Deductions," "Current Total," "Year-to-Date," "Gross Pay," "Taxes," "Deductions," and "Net Pay."

The Balance / Maddy Price

A pay stub, also known as a paycheck stub or pay slip, is the document that itemizes how much employees are paid. You will receive a pay stub for each pay period. It shows your total earnings for the pay period, deductions from the total, and your net pay after all those deductions.

Key Takeaways

A pay stub or paycheck stub includes:

  • Gross wages (the amount you earn before deductions)
  • Tax deductions (federal, state, and local taxes, Social Security, Medicare)
  • Other deductions (health insurance, life insurance, 401k)
  • Net pay (the amount of pay you "take home" after deductions)

What Is Included on a Pay Stub?

Pay stubs include the details of each pay period's wages including the following, depending on your personal circumstances.


When employees are paid with a paper check, the pay stub will be attached to the paycheck. If employees are paid by direct deposit to their bank account, the pay slip should be available online to print, if a paper copy isn't provided by the employer.

  • Gross pay: This is your pay before deductions for federal, state, and local taxes, as well as Medicare, Social Security, and any insurance or retirement contributions. Gross pay is what employers list when making a salary offer, e.g. $50,000 a year, divided by pay period.
  • Federal taxes withheld: Federal tax withholding will depend on your tax bracket. U.S. personal income taxes operate on a graduated scale, starting at 10% and increasing to the top rate of 37%. How much you pay will depend on how much you earn.
  • State taxes withheld: States set their own personal income tax rates. Some have bracketed tax rates similar to the IRS, while others use a flat rate—and some states have no state income tax at all. State taxes can be complicated. For example, if you live in one state, but work in another, both states can’t tax the same income—but that doesn’t mean that non-residents are off the hook.
  • Local taxes withheld: Some metro areas, like New York City, set their own local taxes, which pay for local government services.
  • Benefit insurance deduction(s): Health, dental, vision, life, disability—you might wind up contributing to any or all of these employee benefits. If so, your share will likely be included on your pay stub.
  • FICA: You might have seen this on your pay stub, but did not know what it meant. FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act. In short, it’s your contribution to Medicare and Social Security.
  • Retirement or pension plan contribution: If your employer offers a retirement plan (a 401k, 403b, or pension), your contributions will show up on your pay stub.
  • Wage garnishments: Wage garnishment is when your employer withholds a certain amount of your paycheck to pay off your debt (for example, a tax bill or child support payments).
  • Back pay: If your employer owes you back pay—for example because of an adjustment to your employment (hourly to salaried, or vice versa)—you might see the payout listed on your stub.
  • Net pay: This is the amount you receive after deductions—your actual paycheck, so to speak. If you're evaluating a job offer or starting a new job, you can calculate your net pay to get an estimate of how much you'll earn.

If you have questions about any of the items on your pay slip, check with your manager or company’s Human Resources department for clarification. They can advise you on your current deductions and on how to make changes to what is withheld from your gross pay.

How To Calculate Your Net Pay

There are websites you can visit to calculate the deductions that will be withheld from your pay to estimate the amount of take-home pay in your paycheck.

Paycheck calculators help you determine how much money will be withheld for taxes, FICA, health care, retirement, etc. If you’re entitled to overtime pay, you can also use these calculators to figure out how much extra money you can expect in your check. Here are a couple:

These tools can also be useful for tax planning purposes, too, allowing you to check your withholdings against their recommendations. You may discover that you’re deducting too much or too little from your check, and change your withholdings accordingly.

How To Change Your Withholding Tax

When you start a new job or want to change the amount of tax that is withheld from your paycheck, you will need to fill out a W-4 Form. This will tell your employer how much money to deduct from your check for taxes and benefit contributions.

It’s a good idea to sit down with your spouse prior to filling out the form, so that you can determine the correct withholdings. The IRS also offers a free tax withholding estimator tool, linked above, to help you avoid paying more at tax time.

Why You Might Need Your Pay Stub

A pay stub may seem unnecessary, especially when your net pay is the same paycheck after paycheck. But there are situations when you may need your paycheck slip:

  • To secure housing or get a loan: When you're applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or buying a house, you may be asked to provide copies of your pay stubs from a certain period of time. This is to prove that your income is sufficient to support the cost of the loan, mortgage or rent.
  • To verify employment and salary history: Requesting recent and current pay stubs is one way that employers verify employment. Companies may also ask for pay stubs as part of the hiring process, to check that you’ve provided an accurate salary history. (Note that some states and cities have passed laws prohibiting employers for asking for prior salary during job interviews. Check with your state department of labor to find out what’s allowed in your area.)
  • To make sure the information is correct: It’s a good idea to get into the habit of reviewing your pay stub from time-to-time and keeping either a physical or a digital copy, in case you ever need to verify your pay or deductions. This is especially important when you start a new job, so you can confirm that all the deductions in your first paycheck are correct. It's also wise to save copies of your pay stubs in case your employer gets something wrong, and you need to refer to the document while ironing things out with Human Resources.

How To Get a Copy of Your Pay Stub

If you haven't saved copies of your pay stubs, check to see if you can view and print them from the employee section of your company website or from the payroll service site that your employer uses.

If you can't locate copies, ask the Payroll or Human Resources department of your employer if they can provide you with copies of your pay slips or a login to access them online.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are things you should look for on your pay stub?

It's smart to periodically review your paystub to make sure it's accurate. When you review, check that all of your personal details are accurate, that the period the check covers is correct, and your hours worked, gross pay, all deductions (including for taxes and health or other benefits), and your net pay are all accurate. If you discover issues, contact your manager or your company's payroll or human Resources departments.

What does YTD mean on a pay stub?

"YTD" is short for "Year-to-Date" and it is the total for a given figure since the beginning of the year. On your pay stub you are likely to see YTD summaries for gross pay, net pay, taxes, and other deductions. Tracking YTD for federal taxes can help you confirm whether the right amount of tax is being withheld from your pay.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022,"

  2. Tax Foundation. "Local Income Taxes in 2019."

  3. Social Security Administration. "What is FICA?"

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Information About Wage Levies."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "About Form W-4."

  6. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Create a Loan Application Packet."

  7. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "How To Read a Pay Stub."

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