January is usually when Erika Stoltzfus takes down her Christmas decorations and begins paying off her credit card bills.

But this year, the 44-year-old Dillsburg mother of two is managing a tighter budget.

"There was about $80 less direct deposited into my checking account this month," Stoltzfus said.

The paycheck she earned for her job in the medical care field reflected that Social Security taxes have reverted to 6.2 percent of a worker's salary, compared to the two-year tax break when it was 4.2 percent.

Congress allowed the 2010 Tax Relief Act to expire during its fiscal cliff negotiations, causing all paychecks to decrease 2 percent this year.

For a person or household earning $50,000 annually, it will mean having $1,000 less to spend per year.

By Feb. 15: The 6.2 percent tax rate was effective Jan. 3, and all employers must begin withholding wages accordingly no later than Feb. 15.

If an employer fails to do that, the fault will be on the employer, said Eugene Steuerle, a tax economist with the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C.

"In cases like that, employers would be violating the law, and they'll be called on the carpet," he said.

That's not a situation Stoltzfus has to worry about.

"I'm already feeling the loss," she said.

That $80 she didn't get this month would've paid for a tank of gas in her SUV, half of her groceries for a week or a utility bill.


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"It's not going to devastate us or anything, but it's a loss nonetheless," Stoltzfus said.

Slowdown: To make up the difference, she said her family will probably eat out less.

That's in line with what some economists are predicting.

"Discretionary items are the first to go. Some things, like movies, are recession proof. But recreation is more likely to hurt," Steuerle said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has predicted an immediate slowdown in the economy, citing less consumer spending as a result of the 6.2 percent tax rate.

Following years of inflation outpacing wage increases, the January tax increase strains already-burdened wallets.

In the York-Hanover area, wages increased 1.6 percent from November 2011 to November 2012. The average hourly wage in York County is $19.63, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During that same period of time, the price of gasoline has increased 7.3 percent, hovering just below $4 a gallon throughout most of last year. Housing and energy costs have increased more than 2 percent, and medical expenses have increased more than 3 percent.

"I love my job and think I'm paid a fair wage for what I do, but it's still a tough economy," Stoltzfus said.

She emphasized her problem isn't with her employer, which she declined to name.

"It's that everything goes up every year except the amount of my paycheck. I needed more money this year, not less," she said.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.