How to Fill Out a W-4

June 27, 2017 : Monica Welsh

Editor’s Note: With Tax Day behind us, now is a good time to think about the changes you can make to lower your tax liability. The answer lies in how to fill out a W-4. Read on!

One of the easiest ways to affect your tax refund is the changing the amount withheld on your paycheck each pay period. Form W-4 allows you to dictate the amount of withholding on your paycheck. This article will address the ways in which you can use the Form W-4 to affect your tax return.

Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, is generally completed at the start of any new job. This form tells your employer how much federal income tax withholding to keep from each paycheck. This form is crucial in determining your tax liability or refund each tax season. For instance, if you withhold too much, you can end up with a large refund. If you withhold too little, you can create a tax liability and an underpayment penalty.

The more allowances you claim on your W-4, the lower your withholding will be, and vice versa. So, it can be a tricky balance in determining how many allowances you should claim.

Our W-4 tax withholding calculator will help you determine the number of allowances you can take. Generally, you can take an allowance for:

  • Yourself, so long as you are not a dependent claimed on someone else’s return
  • Your spouse, unless that spouse has a job and claims a regular exemption
  • Dependent(s)

If you are married and have children, and both you and your spouse work, it is extremely important to coordinate W-4 allowances. You want to make sure only one of you claims each child. If your children are claimed twice, it will likely result in not enough withholding, resulting in you having to pay an additional amount to the IRS at end of the year. This is easily avoided with the proper allowances.

Claiming zero allowances may seem like the easiest path. But, this will almost always result in a very large refund check and much smaller paychecks throughout the year. If you are in a good enough financial situation, this may not seem like a big deal. But for most taxpayers, they’d like to maximize their paycheck amount while making sure they’re tax liability is covered for the year.

H&R Block tax professionals can be a great help in this area. In fact, you can get your return reviewed and determine if you over-withheld or under-withheld during the year. If you determine that a change should be made, you can contact your employer and ask for an opportunity to update your W-4. You should be able to make these changes at any point during the year; and the sooner the better if a change needs to be made!

Additionally, any time you have a major life event you should consider updating your W-4. A marriage, divorce, or a new baby will have an effect on your taxes and should be taken into consideration in filling out your W-4.

Extra Tip: State Withholdings

Don’t forget about your state withholding! So many of you work in a different state than you live, and this can have major tax consequences. This is particularly important if the state you live in has a higher income tax than the state in which you work. If you don’t withhold any tax for the state in which you live, and the state in which you work has a lower, or in some instances, no income, you could end up with a large tax liability for your resident state. Think about these factors! It’s another area your H&R Block tax professional is informed on and should be able to help you make the best decisions for your situation! Find a tax office near you today!

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Monica Welsh

Monica Welsh

The Tax Institute, H&R Block

Monica is a tax research analyst in the Tax Institute. She specializes in the areas of business and investment. Monica is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law with a JD and an LLM in tax.