What W-4 Allowances Do You Qualify For?

check your withholdings

If you start a new job, get married (or divorced), have a baby, or your household income changes for any reason, the amount you owe for taxes will also change. You should periodically adjust your W-4 to avoid unexpectedly owing money to the IRS.

In 2020, the IRS redesigned Form W-4, removing allowances and personal tax exemptions. Before 2020, you could update your tax withholding percentage by adjusting the number of allowances. We’ll cover how Form W-4 has changed and what it means for you.

Why are taxes being withheld from my paycheck?  

Rather than asking individuals to pay all their taxes at one time, the U.S. has a pay-as-you-go tax system. This means that anyone earning income must pay taxes throughout the year. When you start a new job, you fill out a Form W-4 that tells your employer how much income should come out of each paycheck for federal income tax.   

Learn more: All About IRS Form W-4  

What was a W-4 allowance?  

An allowance or personal tax exemption was used to reduce the amount of money you owe on your taxes. The number of allowances you took would tell your employer how much should be taken out of your paycheck for income taxes.

Before 2020, you were entitled to one allowance for yourself and one for a spouse if you were married. The more allowances you claimed, the more money you would take home.

Conversely, fewer allowances meant less take-home pay. The redesign is intended to provide a more transparent and accurate way to calculate your tax liability.  

What replaced allowances?  

Allowances have been replaced by a 5-step process to how much money is withheld from your paychecks. This 5-step process uses your income, filing status, number of jobs (or your spouse’s job), and number of dependents to determine how much of your income will be withheld for federal and state taxes. The redesigned form should make it easier to match your tax liability to your withholding amount.   

How do I fill out my W-4 if I have two jobs? 

Additional income from a second job, self-employment, or side hustle can increase your tax liability. If you work more than one job at the same time, you should complete Step 2 of Form W-4 to determine the amount to have withheld from your paycheck.

This calculation keeps you from withholding more money from your paychecks than necessary. There are three ways to calculate your withholding percentage when you work two or more jobs:  

  1. You can use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator to calculate how much to withhold and figure out the additional amount you set aside – if any. The estimator will be the most accurate calculation.  
  1. Or you can use the IRS Worksheet to manually calculate your withholding percentage and the additional amount you should have withheld, if any. The worksheet will be slightly less accurate than the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator.   
  1. If you only have two jobs with similar pay, you can check the box in Step 2–C when you complete your W-4s for each job. Checking this box on both forms will indicate to your employers to cut your tax brackets and deductions in half when calculating the amount to withhold from your paycheck. 

My spouse also works. Who should claim our allowances? 

Allowances are no longer a factor when filling out your W-4. However, if you are married and filing a joint return, you will need to consider your spouse’s income when completing Form W-4. You and your spouse’s income determine your tax bracket and tax liability.

If both of you work, then you should use Step 2 to calculate how much of your income to withhold. Having two incomes on a single return will increase your tax liability. If you require extra withholdings to cover your tax bill – completing Step 2 will help you determine the additional amount to withhold. 

If you and your spouse have similar pay – you will both check the box in Step 2 – C when completing your W-4s. Checking this box tells each employer to cut your tax brackets and deductions in half when calculating how much to deduct from your paychecks. 

If you do not have a similar pay – use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator or the IRS Worksheet to estimate your withholding amount. This will help you to calculate your estimated tax liability and if you should take extra withholdings to cover your tax bill. 

This article is intended to provide general information to the public and does not provide personalized tax, investment, legal, or business advice. You should seek the assistance of a professional for advice on taxes, investments, and any other financial, legal, or business matter pertinent to your individual situation.

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