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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Your First Paycheck: Explained

woman scanning her first paycheck with her phone
RyanJLane/Getty Images

You’ve dreamed about this day…the magical one when you receive your first paycheck from your first “real” job.

And hopefully you were practical about it, too, so you know how much money you’ll make per pay period (or close to it). But even the most prepared earner can be caught by surprise when that first direct deposit hits.

Before that magical moment fizzles in a puddle of deductions, here’s what you can expect from your first paycheck.

Dollars and Sense

Don’t be surprised when your check doesn’t follow the equation of hourly pay times hours worked, or for the amount of your salary you expected. That number is known as gross pay—so if you’re paid $15 an hour and work for 20 hours a week, your gross pay will be $300. Or perhaps you’re salaried, and your gross pay is a flat number like $500 a week.

Knowing your gross pay is important. It’s the number you’ll need to fill in on forms for rentals, mortgages, and more. But your take-home pay—more officially known as net pay—will be less. Deductions like taxes, health benefits, and retirement accounts will reduce the amount you actually receive in your paycheck.

The Low Down on Those Line Items

Show Me the Money

OK, so back to that paycheck. How will you get paid and how often? Those are questions for your company’s HR department. You’ll want to ask when the pay period ends (often the end of a week or month), how often employees are paid (weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly), and when you can expect to receive that first paycheck. You’ll also want to learn about how timecards are managed and submitted, if at all.

Additionally, find out how your new employer pays you and where you can find your pay stub. Will it be by check? Probably not, though your first check might be a paper one. Most employers these days pay via direct deposit and house their paystubs online. You’ll need to provide your banking information (routing number and account number) so your wages can be deposited directly into your account (usually a checking account).

I Got Paid…Now What?

First, you’ll want to double-check that the wage and hours worked on your pay stub are correct. If you see any problems, talk to your human resources representative. They’ll be able to help you decipher what you're seeing—and correct inaccuracies, if necessary.

In future weeks when you get paid, you’ll see both the deductions from your current paycheck and the cumulative amounts of all the deductions. For instance, in each subsequent paycheck you’ll see your federal tax withholdings add up to a bigger number. You’ll want to keep an eye on that as the year closes so you can ensure the W-2 your company issues you—that’s the tax form you’ll need to do your income taxes—accurately matches the amount.

That’s the rundown of your paycheck. Now, onto the fun stuff: Once you’ve gotten that check, what will you do with it?