4 of the most common types of pay schedules

Last updated: April 25, 2024
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Michael Frash
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When you’re hunting for a new job, one of the first questions you’ll likely have for your hiring manager is, “When do employees get paid?”

After all, you’ve got bills to pay. That’s why you’re there interviewing for the job. And those bills have firm due dates that you don’t want to miss.

For employees, the challenging truth is that not all organizations pay on the same basis.

In fact, there are four main kinds of pay schedules, each carrying particular pros and cons and impacting your ability to budget effectively and get those bills paid on time.

In this article, we’ll describe those four pay periods and discuss the pros and cons of each, so you can find a job with a pay schedule that suits your needs.

What is a pay schedule?

Your pay schedule is the arrangement that tells you when you’re going to get paid.

It determines how often you get paid (called the pay period) and when you get paid (called the pay date).

For example, your salary schedule may dictate that you get paid weekly on Thursday or monthly on the 20th of each month.

Regardless of whether they earn wages or a salary, every employee will be on some form of pay schedule.

But there’s more than one kind of pay schedule, and that’s where things get a little confusing because each has its pros and cons.

What are the four most common pay periods?

Theoretically, any period of time can be used as a pay period.

If state and local laws allowed it, businesses could pay employees every day or three or four days if they wanted to.

However, this could get pretty annoying for both the company and the employee. So, the most common pay periods are weekly or longer.

The four most common pay schedules are:

  • Weekly

  • Biweekly (every two weeks)

  • Semi-monthly (twice a month)

  • Monthly

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Four types of pay periods: pros and cons

Let’s break down four types of pay schedules.

1. Monthly pay periods

Employees on monthly pay schedules get paid once per month, typically at the beginning or end of the month.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the least common frequency of pay period in the U.S.

This is an interesting statistic, as it's the most beneficial pay period from the company’s perspective. Paying employees monthly means they run fewer payrolls each year (so it costs less), and it’s easier for businesses to account for things like taxes and employee benefits.

(Image Source)

However, from the employee’s standpoint, monthly pay periods can be undesirable as they can make budgeting difficult. The low demand for pay agreements like this is likely responsible for their unpopularity.

Most companies who pay on a monthly interval will schedule payments either on the first or last day of the month, though mid-month dates (such as the 15th or 20th) are common also.

Pros of monthly pay periods

Some employees may actually find it easier to budget when receiving a monthly paycheck, particularly if their rent is due monthly.

Another way that monthly pay schedules can be beneficial is that some months, your paycheck may be slightly bigger.

For example, if your workdays align correctly, you may earn more in a 31-day month than you will in a 30-day month.

That means if you can design a budget that fits a 30-day month, you get a nice little bonus when you get paid for 31-day months.

Cons of monthly periods

One of the biggest problems with monthly pay schedules is that it can make budgeting tricky.

It’s not uncommon for employees on monthly pay periods to overspend in the first couple of weeks and then find the remaining two weeks challenging as they have less money left over.

To get around this, the best tactic is to divert your direct deposits into a separate bank account and only withdraw a quarter of that amount each week (effectively turning your monthly pay into a weekly schedule).

Monthly pay periods can be particularly challenging for new employees.

If you start work on the 3rd of the month, say, then you have to wait all the way until the 31st (if your company has an end-of-month pay date) until you receive your first check.

2. Semi-monthly pay periods

Semi-monthly pay schedules are the third most common pay schedule in the U.S., where employees get paid twice a month.

Note that this differs slightly from biweekly pay periods, which run every two weeks.

The difference is that semi-monthly pay dates will be scheduled for specific dates, regularly the 15th and 30th of each month. In contrast, biweekly pay periods will be scheduled for a specific day, such as every second Thursday.

Pros of semi-monthly pay periods

Semi-monthly pay periods offer a similar benefit to monthly schedules in that if you’re an hourly employee, you may get a paycheck with slightly more in it now and then, depending on how the days of the month fall.

For example, if you get paid on the 15th and the 30th, there can be 16 days between the check on the 30th and the next on the 15th of the following month. This can sometimes mean you have 12 working days in that period, whereas most of the time, you’ll have 10 or 11.

Other than that, there aren’t too many benefits of semi-monthly pay schedules over monthly ones, other than the fact that you get paid twice as often, which can be beneficial from a budgeting standpoint.

Cons of semi-monthly periods

The main challenge with semi-monthly periods is that your pay will vary with each check because of the way the dates fall, and you won’t have a consistent amount to work with. This can make budgeting tricky.

Also, semi-monthly pay schedules can make overtime and commissions payouts challenging.

This is because the typical pay, if you work 40 hours a week, would be for 87 hours per pay period, and sometimes overtime hours get split across two different pay periods.

3. Biweekly pay periods

Employees on a biweekly pay schedule get paid every two weeks. This is the most common pay period, with 36.5% of U.S. private businesses paying biweekly.

(Image Source)

Wednesday and Thursday are common days for biweekly periods.

Pros of biweekly pay periods

The most significant benefit of biweekly pay schedules is that your pay will be consistent.

Assuming you work the same number of days every week (Monday to Friday, for example), then you’ll get the exact same check each payday.

This can make budgeting fairly easy.

Also, because biweekly pay periods are the most common, many employees are used to this model, so it’s easy to transition between roles.

Cons of biweekly periods

The only real downside to biweekly pay schedules is that budgeting can be slightly more difficult for those managing weekly expenses than a weekly pay schedule.

Many employees get around this by setting up a separate bank account for outgoing expenses and transferring a weeks’ worth of expenses into that account each time they get paid. They’ll then withdraw this money after a week.

4. Weekly pay periods

Employees on a weekly pay schedule get paid once every week on a specific day of the week. Weekly pay schedules are the second most common in the United States, with 32.4% of private businesses paying once a week.

(Image Source)

Pros of weekly pay periods

A major benefit of a weekly payroll is that you'll get a consistent paycheck if you’re working the same hours each week (for example, 40 hours every period).

This is also a desired pay plan for hourly employees or those with irregular schedules due to the high pay frequency.

Cons of weekly periods

One downside of weekly pay schedules is they can make managing monthly expenses difficult.

For example, if you pay rent monthly but get paid weekly, you’ll need to set aside money from each paycheck to go toward your rent payment.

Frequently asked questions about pay schedules

Let’s answer some frequently asked questions about pay schedules.

What are the most common payroll schedules?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the most common pay schedules in the U.S. are biweekly and weekly cycles, with semi-monthly and monthly being the third and fourth most common.

What is the difference between semi-monthly and biweekly?

Semi-monthly means twice a month. So if you get paid semi-monthly, you might receive a paycheck on the 1st and the 15th of each month.

Biweekly means every two weeks. So if you get paid biweekly, you might get paid every second Thursday.

Do you get paid more if you get paid weekly?

Strictly speaking, no. Employees who get paid weekly earn the same total annual amount as those who get paid on a biweekly or monthly basis, assuming they work the same hours and are on the same hourly wage.

Find a job with a payroll schedule that works for you

Now that you have a solid understanding of the most common pay schedules and how they work, there’s just one question left to answer:

Which one works best for you?

Whether you’re working in a job where the pay schedule doesn’t fit your lifestyle, or you’re currently in the job market and looking to find a position that’s going to work with your budget, the next step is to start looking for job openings that suit!

Check out the Jobcase job board and get started today.



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