The Center for Financial Empowerment, the nonprofit organization founded by SCE Credit Union, has a mission to educate high school youth with personal finance concepts, preparing them to make smart financial decisions as they move into adulthood. As part of that mission, we encourage parents to take an active role in helping their teens establish strong financial habits for managing money.

In this post of our “Teach Your Teen” series, we’re providing ways to help your teen understand paycheck basics.

Teach your teen about receiving a paycheck

Most young people get their first job while they’re still in high school, or shortly after graduating. After all, earning their own money is a major step towards becoming independent and being able to pay for the things they want. But the process of getting a job and earning a paycheck can be confusing if they don’t know what to expect. You can prepare your teen by helping them understand what’s required to start working, how their pay will be affected by taxes, and how to make sense of their paycheck stub.

Required forms

One of the first things a teen will have to do when they start a new job is to complete several forms that are required for working in the United States.

Required forms
W-4Also called the Employee’s Holding Certificate, this IRS form determines the percentage of taxes withheld from the paycheck. It can be confusing to understand, so teens will need a parent’s help. It’s a good idea to download the form ahead of time and help your teen fill it out – this will eliminate some of their stress on their first day on the job.
I-9Known as the Employment Eligibility Verification Form, it’s used to verify a person’s eligibility to work in the United States.
IdentificationThe employer will require the worker to provide valid, government-issued photo identification, such as a state identification card, driver’s license, passport, etc.
Taxpayer ID numberThe employer will require the worker to provide a Social Security Number or other valid Taxpayer ID Number.
Work permitIf the worker is a minor and still in school, the employer may require a work permit from the school.

Getting paid

Once the initial paperwork is completed, a new worker will have to select a method to receive payment. The most common methods of payment are direct deposit, payroll card, or a paper check. Employers don’t always offer all three methods, so the options may be limited.

Understanding a pay stub

A pay stub describes the employee’s earnings, tax withholdings and other paycheck deductions for the current payroll period. Parents should help their teens understand the different items on the pay stub and what they mean.

Understanding a pay stub
Payroll periodThe length of time for which an employee’s wages are calculated. Usually weekly, bi-weekly, twice per month, or monthly.
Gross incomeThe total amount of money earned during the payroll period before tax withholdings and deductions.
Net incomeThe amount of money the employee receives after all tax withholdings and deductions.
Tax withholdingsThe amount required by law for employers to withhold from earned wages to pay taxes. On a pay stub, these are separated into categories including federal taxes, state taxes and FICA.

Federal and state taxes are used to provide public services such as roads, schools, police, fire and emergency services.

The amount withheld depends on the amount of money earned and the information provided on the employee’s W-4.

FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) includes two separate taxes:

  • Social Security – Helps provide retirement income for the elderly and disability benefits
  • Medicare – The nation’s healthcare insurance program for the elderly and disabled
Year-to-dateShows the totals of all earnings and deductions from January 1 of the current year to the last date of the payroll period.

An employee should always check his/her pay stub for accuracy, and report mistakes immediately.

A teen’s first job – and their first paycheck – is an exciting new milestone in their journey to becoming an adult. Helping them understand what to expect and how to prepare will ease the transition and make the process more fun and less frustrating.

Additional resources

Help us empower the next generation for financial success! 
The Center for Financial Empowerment is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower disadvantaged youth through financial literacy education. Find out more about our work at

Paycheck Basics, Take Charge Today, October 2020