Annual Compensation vs. Annual Salary: What's the Difference?

Annual Compensation vs. Annual Salary: An Overview

Annual compensation and annual salary may sound like the same thing but, in fact, they represent two very different measures of your earnings. Understanding what each of these terms means is important for determining how much money you earn on a yearly basis. In addition, it is essential to understand your annual compensation if you are saving for retirement in a tax-advantaged plan.

Key Takeaways

  • Annual compensation, in the simplest terms, is the combination of your base salary and the value of any financial benefits your employer provides.
  • Annual salary is the amount of money your employer pays you over the course of a year in exchange for the work you perform.
  • Salary is usually cash only and does not include non-cash compensation.
  • Certain retirement plans base your contribution limit on how much compensation you earn.

Annual Compensation

Annual compensation, in the simplest terms, is the combination of your base salary and the value of any financial benefits your employer provides. This includes:

In most cases, all the compensation you receive is considered taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). There are some exceptions, however. For example, if you are a government employee working abroad and you receive a cost-of-living allowance, that income would typically be tax-free. 

Annual Salary

Your annual salary is the amount of money your employer pays you over the course of a year in exchange for the work you perform. The salary you receive is based on a 40-hour workweek, although (if you are on salary) your wages are not determined by the number of hours you work. 

Knowing the difference between annual salary and annual compensation can help you map out a clearer financial plan. 

The federal government establishes base salary guidelines for certain employees including those working in executive, professional, and administrative positions. Under old U.S. Department of Labor rules, the minimum base salary for these employees was $455 per week. Beginning Dec. 1, 2016, the base salary rate was set to increase to $913 per week, but in November 2016 a court case in Texas put that ruling on hold.

On Sept. 24, 2019, the Department of Labor revised the amount to $684 per week.

The purpose behind the rule is to ensure that salaried workers who work more than 40 hours per week are being adequately paid for their time. Hourly employees, by comparison, would receive an overtime wage that’s higher than their normal hourly rate for any hours they work beyond the initial 40-hour week. This wage has to be at least 1.5 times their regular hourly rate.

To figure out how much your salary breaks down to on an hourly basis, you divide the amount you receive over a particular pay period by the number of hours you work. For example, suppose you earn a salary of $72,000 annually and you work a 40-hour week all year. Before taxes, your salary breaks down to an hourly wage of $34.62.

The four-day workweek appears to be gaining traction across the globe, including in the U.S. California state Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat introduced a bill in July 2021 that would implement a four-day workweek.  

Special Considerations

One of the reasons it is so important to understand your annual compensation is that certain retirement plans base your contribution limit on how much compensation you earn.

For example, consider a scenario where you are enrolled in your employer’s 401(k) plan, which offers a matching contribution of 50% of elective salary deferrals, up to 5% of your annual compensation.

For 2022, the IRS caps the amount of annual compensation employers can use to determine matching contribution amounts at $305,000. Assume that your annual compensation totals $360,000 and you contribute the full $20,500 allowed for 2022. Your employer would only be able to offer a match equal to half of 5% of $305,000, which comes to $7,625.

Knowing how much your employer is able to provide for the match is a must when you are mapping out your retirement strategy. The more money you can get from your employer, the faster your investments will grow over time.

It is easy to confuse annual salary with annual compensation, but knowing the difference can help you map out a clearer financial plan. Once you understand the total value of your employment, it is easier to determine how much you can defer into your employer’s retirement plan, what you will owe in taxes for the year, and how much you’ll have left to cover your expenses. Not only that, but understanding the details of salary and compensation can give you the edge when negotiating your pay for a new job or asking your current employer for a raise.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 525 (2021), Taxable and Nontaxable Income."

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet #17G: Salary Basis Requirement and the Part 541 Exemptions Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)."

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales, and Computer Employees," Page 5.

  4. U.S. Department of Labor. "Final Rule: Overtime Update."

  5. U.S. Department of Labor. "Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales, and Computer Employees," Page 9-10.

  6. Takano. "Rep. Takano Introduces Legislation to Reduce the Standard Workweek to 32 Hours."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "401(k) Plans - Deferrals and Matching When Compensation Exceeds the Annual Limit."

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Announces 401(k) Limit Increases to $20,500."

Take the Next Step to Invest
×
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.
Service
Name
Description