The payday lowdown

Wondering what all the info on your payslip actually means? We’ve got it covered
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Bringing in money from a job can be a real buzz – but you may be wondering why the government gets a bite of your hard-earned cash. And what’s the deal with PAYE? Don’t sweat it. Read on to get those payslip deductions explained.

1. What is a payslip?

A payslip is a statement that explains how you’ve been paid. Whether your employer pays you in cash or by bank transfer, they must give you a payslip each time. They can do this by post, email, in person or online.

What’s on them varies, but as a minimum, payslips will mention:

  • Your gross and net pay (see point 2)
  • Any money taken off, such as for income tax
  • Hours worked (if your pay varies by how much time you put in)
  • If your employer splits your pay across payment methods, there’ll be details here.

So, what should you do with your payslip? First, check the info on it is correct, and that the money arrives in your bank account or pay packet. Tell your employer ASAP if anything looks wrong so they can sort it out.

Payslips are a record of your tax, national insurance, pension savings and more. That stuff gets more important over time, so keep hold of the paperwork.

2. What’s the difference between gross pay and net pay?

Gross pay is how much you earn before tax, national insurance and other deductions (there’s more about that below). Net pay is the magic number – it’s your take-home pay.

For example, if your gross pay is £375 a week, you’ll take home around £325. The missing bit is for tax and national insurance. In the real world, you might take home more or less depending if you make student loan repayments or pay into a workplace pension.

Where can I find my tax code?

It should be on your payslip or other paperwork from your employer or the tax office. It’s worth checking your code is correct because deductions affect your take-home pay (and your access to some benefits). Visit the government’s site to check.

The good news is, if you ever pay too much tax, you can get a refund.

3. What is tax – and do I have to pay it?

Tax is money we give to the government. It’s like a community savings pot, and it pays for things we all benefit from, such as schools, roads and the NHS. Some of the cash is set aside for anyone who needs extra support, in the form of benefits.

The main tax you’ll meet is income tax. This is a tax on wages, as well as some state and workplace benefits (such as sick pay).

Luckily, we all get a personal allowance. That’s how much we can earn without paying tax each tax year. The current allowance is £12,570. If you don’t earn that much in the year, you won’t pay tax.

Once you’ve used up your allowance, you pay 20% tax on the next £12,571 - £50,270 you make (unless you’re in Scotland, where the bands are different to the rest of the UK. The same can be said for tax bands in the Republic of Ireland). Earn more than that and you’ll pay a higher rate on the next chunk, and so on.

4. What’s National Insurance (NI), again?

Like income tax, NI is docked from your wages above a threshold. The government uses this to pay for pensions, the NHS, and some benefits and allowances.

It’s important to build up your NI contributions over your working life, as it can affect your access to a state pension later on. You can check how much you’ve got on the government’s National Insurance records.

5. What does PAYE mean?

PAYE is pronounced with the letters spelled out (P-A-Y-E). It stands for Pay As You Earn, and it makes paying income tax and national insurance less hassle. Instead of you working out how much you owe, your employer uses your tax code to calculate it for you.

A tax code is a string of letters and/or numbers – 1250L, for instance. The code tells your employer how much to take off your wages to send to the tax office. They then pay you the rest.

Common terms you’ll hear at work

HMRC: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, AKA the tax office.

Tax year: Unlike the calendar year, the tax year starts on 6 April. Your annual income and personal allowance reset to zero at the start of each tax year.

P45: Your employer gives you this form when you leave your job. It tells your new employer what tax code to use, so keep it safe.

Emergency tax code: You might be put on an emergency code if you start a job without a P45. Don’t worry – it catches up eventually, so you won’t be out of pocket.

Workplace pension: A way of saving for retirement. Doing it through your employer unlocks bonus cash. Find out how it all works on the Citizens Advice website.

Check out the accompanying video for this article and discover the five things you need to know about payday.


Image credit: iStock