Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

5 Key Differences Between PEO and Common Paymaster

December 1st, 2023 | 6 min. read

By Keith Edwards

Payroll and HR management can be a tedious task for any business leader. The challenge of ensuring efficient payroll processing while staying compliant with employment laws often leads to stress and confusion. This is where understanding the differences between a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) and Common Paymaster becomes crucial.


At Payday HCM, we specialize in unraveling these complexities. With our expertise in Human Capital Management, we help businesses through the maze of payroll and HR options, ensuring they make informed decisions that best suit their unique needs.


We’ll highlight the five differences between PEO and Common Paymaster. We’ll equip you with knowledge, simplify your decision-making process, and help you choose the right solution for your business. Whether you're a small business looking for comprehensive HR support or a multi-entity corporation seeking efficient payroll solutions, understanding these key distinctions will pave the way for smarter, stress-free HR management. After reading this article, you’ll understand:


  • The Basic Functions of a PEO and Common Paymaster
  • Tax Implications and Savings of a PEO and Common Paymaster
  • PEO and Common Paymaster’s HR and Compliance Support
  • Their Suitability for Different Business Types
  • Control and Flexibility: How Do They Hold Up

1: The Basic Functions of a PEO and Common Paymaster


PEO: A Co-Employment Model

A PEO operates on a co-employment model, fundamentally changing the relationship between an employer and its employees. In this arrangement, your business retains control over the day-to-day activities and operations, while the PEO becomes the employer of record for tax and insurance purposes. 


This partnership allows tiny to medium-sized companies to outsource various HR tasks. These tasks include payroll processing, employee benefits, workers' compensation administration, and ensuring compliance with state and federal employment laws.


This model is particularly beneficial for businesses looking to expand their HR capabilities without the overhead of an entire in-house HR department. By pooling the employees of multiple client companies, PEOs can negotiate better rates for health insurance and other benefits, providing small businesses access to benefits typically reserved for larger corporations. It brings a level of HR expertise and legal compliance knowledge that can be invaluable, especially for businesses without specialized HR staff.


Common Paymaster: Simplifying Payroll for Related Companies

Common Paymaster is a system designed for businesses that are part of a more prominent corporate family or group of related companies. It simplifies the payroll process by designating one entity within the group to act as the 'paymaster’


This entity handles payroll responsibilities for employees who work for multiple companies within the group. The primary advantage of this system is its ability to streamline payroll administration and reduce the administrative burden of managing numerous payrolls.


This approach is efficient in managing payroll tax liabilities. It ensures that Social Security and Medicare taxes are calculated accurately, avoiding overpayment for employees who split their time across different companies in the group. This system is most beneficial for groups where employees frequently work across various entities, as it centralizes payroll processing and reduces the complexity associated with managing payroll in a multi-entity environment.


2: Tax Implications and Savings of a PEO and Common Paymaster


PEO: Potential for Lower Employment Taxes

The tax implications of partnering with a PEO can be significantly beneficial for many businesses. A PEO consolidates the payroll of multiple client companies, which can lead to more favorable tax rates due to their more extensive aggregate employee base. This pooling effect often results in lower employment taxes and can provide access to more competitive health and workers' compensation insurance rates.


PEOs assume the responsibility of payroll tax reporting and compliance, which can be a complex and time-consuming process. They manage all aspects of payroll taxes, from withholding the correct amounts to filing the necessary state and federal tax documents. 


This ensures compliance with tax laws and reduces the administrative burden on businesses. PEOs often have the expertise to identify tax credits and incentives that client companies may be eligible for, further reducing their overall tax burden.


Common Paymaster: Reducing Payroll Tax Liability

The Common Paymaster arrangement is particularly advantageous regarding payroll tax liability, especially for businesses with employees across multiple related companies. This system ensures that Social Security and Medicare taxes are not overpaid for these employees. 


Typically, there is a limit to how much Social Security tax is owed per employee per year, regardless of how many companies they work for within the same corporate family. Having a single paymaster correctly aggregates the total compensation paid to an employee, ensuring that Social Security taxes are accurately calculated and not overpaid.


This arrangement can lead to significant tax savings, particularly for high-earning employees who exceed the Social Security wage base limit when their incomes from multiple companies are combined. It also simplifies the tax reporting process, as the Common Paymaster is responsible for issuing W-2 forms and managing other payroll-related tax filings for these employees. This centralized approach streamlines the tax reporting process and minimizes the risk of errors and non-compliance.


3: PEO and Common Paymaster’s HR and Compliance Support


PEO: Comprehensive HR Services

A PEO provides a comprehensive suite of HR services beyond mere payroll processing. This full-service approach includes critical areas such as employment law compliance, employee relations, training and development, performance management, and even assistance with recruitment and hiring processes. This can be a game-changer for businesses, especially smaller ones without a dedicated HR department.


PEOs typically have a team of HR professionals who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise in various HR disciplines. This expertise is precious in navigating the complex landscape of employment laws and regulations, which can vary significantly from state to state and change frequently. 


Partnering with a PEO, businesses can remain compliant with these laws, reducing the risk of costly legal issues. Additionally, PEOs often offer customized HR solutions tailored to the business's specific needs, providing support that aligns with the company's culture and objectives.


Common Paymaster: Limited to Payroll Processing

The Common Paymaster arrangement primarily focuses on payroll processing for employees working across related companies and does not typically extend to broader HR services. 


Businesses using this system are responsible for managing their HR tasks and ensuring compliance with employment laws. While Common Paymaster can streamline payroll administration and reduce tax liabilities, it does not provide the comprehensive HR support that a PEO offers.


For companies that already have a robust HR department in place, Common Paymaster can be an efficient way to manage payroll complexities without the need for additional HR support. For businesses needing more in-house HR expertise, this model might require them to seek external HR services or manage these responsibilities internally, which can be challenging, especially for smaller businesses.


4: Their Suitability for Different Business Types


PEO: Ideal for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses

PEOs are particularly well-suited for small to medium-sized businesses without the resources or needing a full-scale, in-house HR department. These businesses often need help with their budgets and a need for comprehensive HR services that are typically available to larger corporations. 


A PEO fills this gap by providing a wide range of HR services, including access to high-quality employee benefits, payroll management, compliance assistance, and HR consultancy.


The partnership with a PEO allows smaller businesses to offer competitive benefits and professional HR services, which are crucial for attracting and retaining top talent. Additionally, PEOs bring expertise and compliance support that can be invaluable for businesses navigating the complexities of employment laws and regulations. This is especially beneficial for businesses in a growth phase and need to scale their HR capabilities quickly and efficiently.


Common Paymaster: Best for Corporate Groups

The Common Paymaster system, on the other hand, is best suited for corporate groups or conglomerates with multiple related entities. This system is particularly effective for businesses where employees work across different companies within the same corporate family


The main advantage of the Common Paymaster is its ability to streamline payroll processing and reduce the administrative burden associated with managing multiple payrolls for employees who work for more than one company in the group.


This arrangement is most beneficial for larger corporate entities with established HR departments capable of handling the broader spectrum of HR responsibilities. The Common Paymaster system simplifies the payroll aspect, particularly regarding tax liabilities and reporting, but assumes that the company has the resources to manage other HR functions internally. It's an efficient solution for managing payroll complexities in a multi-entity corporate environment but does not provide the comprehensive HR support that a smaller business might need.


5: Control and Flexibility: How Do They Hold Up


PEO: Shared Employer Responsibilities

In a PEO arrangement, there is a unique balance of control and flexibility that businesses need to consider. While the business owner retains essential control over employee management and day-to-day business operations, the PEO assumes the role of the employer of record for administrative purposes


This co-employment model means that the PEO handles various employment-related tasks, such as payroll processing, tax filings, employee benefits administration, and compliance with labor laws.


This shared responsibility can be a significant advantage for businesses that want to focus on their core operations while ensuring their HR functions are managed professionally. It also means businesses share some control over HR processes with the PEO. This shared control is a welcome relief for some business owners, as it offloads complex HR tasks to experts. For others, it might require trust and adjustment, as they are used to having complete control over all aspects of their business.


Common Paymaster: Retaining Full Control

The Common Paymaster arrangement, in contrast, allows businesses to retain more control over their HR functions. This system primarily concerns payroll processing for employees across related companies and does not extend into broader HR management areas. Businesses using Common Paymaster maintain complete control over their HR policies, employee benefits, compliance issues, and other HR-related tasks.


This model particularly appeals to businesses with the resources and desire to manage their HR in-house but are looking for a way to streamline the payroll aspect for employees who work across different entities within the same corporate family. It offers a focused solution that addresses a specific need (payroll processing) without diluting the business’s control over other HR functions.


Evaluate a PEO and Common Paymaster with Confidence


The distinction lies in understanding that a PEO offers a broad spectrum of HR services under a co-employment model, making it an ideal choice for small to medium-sized businesses needing comprehensive support. In contrast, Common Paymaster is more suited for corporate groups with multiple related entities, focusing on payroll efficiency and tax savings.


Making this decision is a significant step towards resolving your HR and payroll challenges and setting your business on a path to growth and success. To navigate this decision effectively, assess your current HR and payroll needs. Identify the areas where you require the most support, whether comprehensive HR services or streamlined payroll processing. 

Consider consulting with HR and payroll experts who can provide personalized advice and insights tailored to your unique business context. By thoroughly exploring both PEO and Common Paymaster services and understanding how each aligns with your business objectives, you can make an informed choice that addresses your immediate needs and supports your long-term business goals. At Payday HCM, we can help you with your decision.

Keith Edwards

Keith Edwards is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a former U.S. Army Captain. He has over 34 years of leadership experience in government, financial services, manufacturing, retail, and non-profit organizations. He assists businesses in improving the bottom line through increased efficiency in payroll processing, time and attendance, employee benefits, and human resources. His goal is to allow your business to focus on revenue-producing activities instead of non-revenue-producing activities to allow business leaders to sleep better at night knowing they are protected from threats related to compliance and tax/financial issues in the areas of payroll and HR.