Most of us don't pay enough attention to our paychecks. Many workers lose money because their pay checks are wrong – because of mistakes or repeated underpayments.

Pay attention to how much and how many hours you are paid, the deductions to your pay, and that the calculations are right. If there is a mistake, go to the payroll clerk to try to get it fixed. Tell your coworkers to check if their pay has the same mistakes. If you think that many workers are not being paid correctly, email us or contact a lawyer.

What if I don’t get a pay stub? Without a pay stub, it's much harder to tell if you're being paid for all your hours and if the deductions are right. Some states require that bosses give workers a pay stub showing the deductions from their pay check, or let workers review their pay records. It’s especially important to keep track of your pay and hours if you are paid cash or have different bosses.

Typical Deductions:

FICA This is the amount taken out for Social Security and Medicare.

Federal and State Tax Your boss should have asked you to fill out a tax withholding form. If you have to pay a lot of taxes every year in April, you may want to change your withholding form (ask the Human Resource or Payroll Office) to have fewer dependents (so that more is deducted from your paycheck). If you don't make much, see if you are allowed to take the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Health Insurance If you get health insurance from your work, you probably pay for part of it yourself. Hopefully, your boss pays for most of it. If you don't earn a lot, check to see if you can cover your children through your state's Children's Health Program.

Union Dues If you're paying union dues, congratulations! You can't be fired unfairly and you can have a say at work! Since you're paying anyway, why not go to a union meeting? Studies have shown that union members are paid more and get better benefits than people with the same job without a union.

Sometimes there is a deduction for union dues when the workers don’t think they have a union. The company may have set up a company union that is not looking out for your interests. Not only is the company taking your money, they're trying to make sure you can't have a real union. Company unions are not legal and workers can fight to get rid of the company union so they can have a real union.

Garnishes (also called "attachments") This is when a court has ordered your employer to withhold some of your pay because you owe money for child support or a debt. You can go to court and ask for the amount to be lowered if what is being taken is too high for you to be able to survive. There are some protections against workers being fired for having their paycheck garnished.

Other Deductions If there is a deduction that you don't understand, ask someone in the payroll or personnel department for an explanation. Sometimes when you ask, your boss says that you signed a deduction authorization when you were hired. You can stop a deduction (except the required ones) by asking the personnel or payroll person. Some companies make deductions that don’t help workers, like contributions for an “industry fund” (which fight against health and safety and workplace rights for workers).

Also make sure calculations are right:

Gross Pay is the total amount you are paid. This is the number to look at when you are making sure that you were paid for the right number of hours and pay rate.

Overtime Make sure that you are being paid for all of your overtime. If you are not sure, start keeping track of how much overtime you work and comparing it to your overtime pay.

Net Pay After all the deductions, this is how much is in the check.