IRS Urges Employers to Choose Carefully When Selecting a Payroll Service Provider

Using a Reputable Firm or Group Can Protect Employers from Fraud; Options Include PSPs, RAs and CPEOs

Payrolls Folder

The IRS reminded employers today to carefully choose their payroll service providers following continuing concerns that some disreputable organizations can fail to deposit employment taxes, leaving businesses vulnerable to unpaid bills.

Many employers outsource their payroll and related tax duties to third parties. This streamlines business operations by collecting and timely depositing payroll taxes on the employer’s behalf and filing required payroll tax returns with state and federal authorities.

“A business doing everything else right can suddenly find its future in doubt if it falls victim to an unscrupulous third party that fails to make the required payroll and withholding deposits,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “We want to encourage all employers to understand their obligations and choose wisely when it comes to selecting a trusted payroll service to carry out this critical function. This is especially important right now as businesses face unique challenges because of the pandemic.”

Though most of these businesses provide quality service, there are, unfortunately, some who do not have their clients’ best interests at heart. Each year, a few of these third parties fail to remit the payroll taxes entrusted to them and close their doors abruptly. The damage hits their unsuspecting clients hard.

“Most third-party payroll services do a good job helping small businesses meet their deadlines and payroll obligations,” said Eric Hylton, Commissioner, Small Business/Self Employed Division. “But each year some employers fall prey to unscrupulous third-parties that fail to send the IRS the taxes entrusted to them. We are vigilant in pursuing these third parties, but too often their clients – the employers − are left on the hook. The IRS wants all employers to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.”

Like employers who handle their own payroll duties, employers who outsource this function are in most instances still legally responsible for any and all payroll taxes due. This includes any federal income taxes withheld as well as both the employer and employee shares of Social Security and Medicare taxes. This is true even if the employer forwards tax amounts to the third party to make the required deposits or payments.

One third-party arrangement that can reduce this risk is the certified professional employer organization (CPEO). Unlike other third parties, in most circumstances, the CPEO is solely liable for paying the customer's employment taxes, filing returns and making deposits and payments for the taxes reported with regard to wages and other compensation it pays to its employees. More information on CPEOs can be found on

Other third parties, such as payroll service providers (PSPs) and reporting agents (RAs) may also be right for many employers. A reporting agent is a PSP that has informed IRS of its relationship with its client (via Form 8655, Reporting Agent Authorization, which is signed by the client). A reporting agent is required to deposit its client’s taxes via the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System and is authorized to exchange information with IRS on behalf of its client, such as to resolve an issue.

For an overview of how the roles and obligations of PSPs, reporting agents and CPEOs differ from one to another, see the Third Party Arrangement Chart on

“Employers should remember to watch out and do due diligence to help safeguard themselves – and their employees − from a payroll service provider failing to do what the law requires,” Rettig said.

“IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to investigating all tax criminals, especially professionals who have fiduciary responsibilities and violate the trust of their clients,” said Don Fort, Chief of IRS Criminal Investigation. “Those parties who do violate that trust may go to jail, but the defrauded employers’ problems are just beginning. There is no substitute for continued diligence in ensuring something so important is done right. Your employees are counting on you.”

The IRS urges employers to take a number of steps to protect themselves from unscrupulous third parties.

Please Note: This article was originally posted on the IRS website here.

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