How Many Pay Periods Are in a Year?

At a glance

A pay period is a specific set of time used to track a worker’s hours so that they can be correctly and consistently compensated. Most businesses primarily run on a biweekly payment schedule, meaning for many workers there are usually 26 pay periods in a year.

Published on:
May 6, 2024

What Is a Pay Period?

Pay periods, or the blocks of time for which employees' hours are tracked and then paid, can differ in length. They are consistent and recurring, meaning that the next one begins as soon as one ends. As a business, you can choose how to structure your pay periods. These standards will help companies determine payroll factors like payment schedules, keeping federal and banking holidays in mind. Here are a few types of pay periods that a business can choose from:

  • Weekly payments (52 pay periods in a year, or 53 in leap years)
  • Biweekly payments (26 pay periods in a year)
  • Semi-monthly payments (24 pay periods in a year)
  • Monthly payments (12 pay periods in a year)
Pay periods define the time blocks for tracking employee hours and paying wages, which can vary in length. Businesses choose their structure based on payroll schedules, cash flow, and federal holidays.

Understanding Pay Periods

For small business owners, ensuring correct and timely employee payments is not just a matter of good practice but a legal obligation. The Fair Labor Standards Act mandates punctual payments for employees on their paydays, and failure to comply can lead to costly penalties. State laws also regulate pay periods. Biweekly payment schedules, often with payday on Fridays, are common among businesses. 

Businesses use pay periods to ensure consistent and timely employee payment and maintain compliance with federal and state laws.

Challenges and Considerations

Small business owners should consider their financial situation, the administrative cost, and their employees' preferences when deciding on a pay period structure. For instance, weekly payments are beneficial for retail and manual labor industries as they provide employees for lower-wage workers. Mid- to large-sized companies often use biweekly payments due to their balance between regular pay intervals and manageable payroll administration costs.

Maintaining payroll involves administrative costs, such as hiring payroll specialists. When selecting a pay period, consider financial implications and employee needs as they pertain to your company and industry.

Best Practices for Small Businesses

Small businesses should keep the costs of payroll runs in mind when choosing their pay period structure and frequency. First, consider your company's cash flow. The time(s) of the month you have the most revenue on hand towards employee payroll may be good to base pay periods on. You can also establish different pay period structures for other employees within your company. However, this may be complex for a small business and may not offer many benefits. The good news is, technology is readily available to automate tracking employee hours and other payroll activities, ensuring efficiency and accuracy in your payroll management.

When establishing pay periods, small businesses should consider available revenue for payroll and their workers' preferences. They may also consider using technology to automate payment and tracking.

Main takeaway

Businesses must maintain consistent and timely pay periods to comply with laws, manage payroll costs effectively, and keep their workers happy. Pay periods vary in length and structure, and companies should choose what's best for them based on cash flow, payroll schedules, and employee needs.

About the author

Casey Pontrelli

Casey Pontrelli is a multi-talented professional with a background in content creation, branding, and social media marketing. Whether writing for a newspaper, eCommerce website, B2B startup, or a marketing agency, she has taken her strong background in journalism and turned her focus to SEO and content marketing. She’s written about everything from boutiques to cars to small businesses, and enjoys most when she knows her writing has had an impact. When she’s not writing up a storm or creating attention-grabbing social media posts, Casey enjoys hanging out with her two cats, Eddy and Larry, going on long walks in the Green Belt, and, predictably, reading.

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