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Why Do We Only Get Paid Every Two Weeks?

February 28, 2020

Payday is, to most people, a good day. The one downside is that you typically have to wait two weeks (or a week, or if you’re really unlucky, a month) for it to come around. It’s a schedule that seems randomly thrust upon us. Why isn’t it more common to get paid three times a week or every day? Why do so many people get paid on a two-week cycle?

It turns out the pay cycle is largely based on historic precedent. According to Nelson Lichtenstein, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the modern payroll system really began in the 1940s.1 In 1942 the United States implemented a mass payroll tax for employers, and at a time without widespread electronic transfers or advanced computers, companies took a lot longer to deduct those taxes from their employees’ pay and send that money to the government. To balance paying their workers regularly with efficiently handling their payroll taxes, those companies adopted a two-week or monthly pay cycle.

However, the world has come a long way since the 1940s, especially with regard to how money moves. Automated Clearing House, or ACH, transfers enable banks to electronically transfer money between accounts. Small businesses have mobile point of sale systems that can process credit card payments wirelessly. Social payment apps let you quickly send money to your friends with a smartphone. So why do we still have to wait to get paid from work?

With current financial technology, many of the companies we work for should have the ability to pay us more frequently. Don Weinstein, vice president of product and technology at payroll company ADP which serves one in six working Americans, says employers could pay employees daily if they wanted.2 However, they choose not to because it would be more expensive and time consuming, and some businesses don’t have the cash flow to pay staff that often. Instead, roughly half of the companies working with ADP pay their staff every two weeks, a quarter pay every week, and a quarter pay once a month.

Now, some businesses actually do pay workers more often. In 2015, rideshare company Lyft partnered with payment company Stripe to create a feature for Lyft drivers called Express Pay, which allows drivers to quickly access the money they’ve earned.3 Employers that can’t or don’t want to build their own platforms for paying employees are partnering with earned wage access companies such as Earnin, which just launched its business-to-business program, to provide similar utility to their staff. Progress is happening and now some workers have more control over their pay.

Even still, it’s not perfect. Earned wage access is a helpful benefit for employees, but ideally getting paid for hours you’ve already worked wouldn’t be considered a benefit at all. Instead, It should be the default way that people get paid. Maybe earned wage access will grow in popularity to the point that getting paid as you work becomes as common as lunch breaks and overtime. Until then, you’ll have to make due with relying on your employer to offer it as a perk or signing up for an earned wage benefit service yourself.

1Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply,, see Earnin.com/TOS for details.

2Disclaimer: Balance Shield cash out is subject to your available earnings and daily pay period max. Other restrictions and/or third party fees may apply. For more information visit Earnin.com/TOS.

3NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Must be 18 years of age or older and a legal resident of the U.S. or DC. Games begin each Sunday starting 12/6/20 at 9:01 p.m. ET and end the following Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET with the last Game ending 12/19/21. To download the App, view the Official Rules, odds disclosures, prize details, and alternate means of entry, visit https://www.earnin.com/wewin/. Void where prohibited. $10,000,000 grand prize payable over 29 years. Sponsor: Activehours, Inc. (d/b/a Earnin), 200 Portage Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

4Disclaimer: Up to 2 days early is based on comparison with traditional banks. Exact timing is dependent on your employer's payroll policies. For more information on eligibility and requirements of Earnin Express, visit Earnin.com/TOS.

5Source: Internal analysis conducted by Earnin on December 10, 2020.

1Restrictions on use of Services and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for details.

2Balance Shield cash out is subject to your available earnings and daily pay period max. Other restrictions and/or third party fees may apply. For more information visit Earnin.com/TOS.

3Tip Yourself Account funds are held with Evolve Bank & Trust, Member FDIC and FDIC insured up to $250,000. Tip Yourself is a 0% APY and $0 monthly fee service. Other restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for details.

1Lightning Speed may not be available to all Community Members. Cash Outs may take up to thirty minutes, actual transfer speeds will depend on your bank connection. Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for details.

2Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for details.

3Balance Shield cash out is subject to your available earnings and your daily pay period max. Other restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for details.

4NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Must be 18 years of age or older and a legal resident of the U.S. or DC. Games begin each Sunday starting 12/6/20 at 9:01 p.m. ET and end the following Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET with the last Game ending 12/19/21. To download the App, view the Official Rules, odds disclosures, prize details, and alternate means of entry, visit WeWin Game & Sweepstakes Official Rules. Void where prohibited. $10,000,000 grand prize payable over 29 years. Sponsor: Activehours, Inc. (d/b/a Earnin), 200 Portage Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

5Tip Yourself Account funds are held with Evolve Bank & Trust, Member FDIC and FDIC insured up to $250,000. Tip Yourself is a 0% Annual Percentage Yield and $0 monthly fee service. Your Tip Yourself Account and any Tip Jars are not Savings Accounts. For more information/details visit Earnin.com/TOS.

6Up to two days early is based on comparison with traditional banks. Exact timing is dependent on your employer’s payroll policies. For more information on eligibility and requirements of Earnin Express, visit Earnin.com/TOS.

7Your Max on Earnin Express is up to 80% of your payroll or $1000, whichever is less. The 80% is dependent on you routing your full paycheck to Earnin Express. For more information on eligibility and requirements of Earnin Express, visit Earnin.com/TOS.

8Learn how we collect and use your information by visiting our Privacy Policy.

1Disclaimer: Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for more details. Lightning Speed may not be available to all Community Members. Cash Outs may take up to thirty minutes, actual transfer speeds will depend on your bank connection.

2Disclaimer: Lightning Speed may not be available to all Community Members. Cash Outs may take up to thirty minutes, actual transfer speeds will depend on your bank connection. Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for details

3Disclaimer: Community Member must have had at least 1 successful debit with Earnin. Limit to 1 Max Boost per pay period. A boost will not adjust a Community member's daily max. Restrictions may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for more details

*Disclaimer: Balance Shield Cash Out is subject to your available earnings and daily pay period max.Other restrictions and/or thirdparty fees may apply. For more information visit Earnin.com/TOS

1Restrictions may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for more details. Tip Yourself Account funds are held with Evolve Bank & Trust, member FDIC and FDIC insured up to $250,000. Tip Yourself is a 0% Annual Percentage Yield and $0 monthly fee service. Your Tip Yourself Account and any Tip Jars are not Savings Accounts. For more information/details visit Earnin.com/TOS

2Disclaimer: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Must be 18 years of age or older and a legal resident of the U.S. or DC. Games begin each Sunday starting 12/6/20 at 9:01 p.m. ET and end the following Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET with the last Game ending 12/19/21. To download the App, view the Official Rules, odds disclosures, prize details, and alternate means of entry, visit https://www.Earnin.com/wewin/game-rules/. Void where prohibited. $10,000,000 grand prize payable over 29 years. Sponsor: Activehours, Inc. (d/b/a Earnin), 200 Portage Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

3Disclaimer: Restrictions Apply. See Earnin.com/wewin/pool-rules/ for more information

*Disclaimer: Up to 2 days early is based on comparison with traditional banks. Exact timing is dependent on your employer's payroll policies. For more information on eligibility and requirements of Earnin Express, visit Earnin.com/TOS.

**Disclaimer: Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply, see Earnin.com/TOS for more details. Lightning Speed may not be available to all Community Members. Cash Outs may take up to thirty minutes, actual transfer speeds will depend on your bank connection.

*Survey conducted in February 2020 with 889 participants.

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