How Do I Complete a W-4 form?
If you’ve ever started a new job, you have probably had to fill out a W-4 form. A W-4 Employee’s Withholding Certificate is a form employers give employees to fill out to determine the amount of income tax to withhold from their paychecks. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to fill out this form, and employers don’t typically hand out W-4 forms with instructions and guidelines. However, it is important to complete the form accurately to avoid any surprises come the tax season.
How Does a W-4 Form Work?
W-4 forms tell employers how much income tax to withhold from each of their employees’ paychecks. The money withheld from paychecks is sent straight to the IRS on behalf of the employee and goes towards paying your annual income tax bill, which you calculate when filing your tax return every year in April. The employer sends this information along with the employee’s name and Social Security number, so the employee must fill out their W-4 with accurate information.
Employees should not only fill out W-4 forms when they start a new job. A pay raise or a change in life circumstances during the tax year, such as marriage, divorce, or having a child, are also reasons for employees to revisit W-4 forms. If the employee fails to complete the W-4 form before the first payroll date, the employer will withhold federal income taxes as if the employee chose single filing status and is claiming zero tax credits. You can change your employee withholding at any time by submitting a new W-4 to your employer.
You will want to make sure that the correct amount is withheld to avoid any surprises during tax season. A large unexpected tax bill may present sudden financial trouble for some, and a large tax refund also indicates that you may be living on less money than necessary throughout the year by giving the government a large interest-free loan.
In 2020, the IRS made some changes to the standard W-4 and released a new federal form that eliminated the ability to claim personal income withholding allowance–one of the components of the W-4 form that many found confusing to fill out. The revised form has five sections instead of seven and is easier for both employees and employers to fill out.
How to Fill Out a W-4
Depending on the individual’s situation, a W-4 can be a straightforward form to fill out. As of 2020, someone who is single or is married to an unemployed spouse who has no dependents only has one income, and isn’t claiming any tax credits beyond the standard deduction, only has to fill out the following information of their W-4 form:
- Social Security Number (SS)
- Filing Status (Single)
- Sign and Date
For those who do not fit the criteria above, accurately filling out a W-4 form may be a little more complicated.
More than One Job or Working Spouse
For individuals with multiple jobs or whose filing status is “married filing jointly,” you have a few options to choose from.
- If you have two jobs, or you and your spouse each have one job, complete line 1 of the “Multiple Jobs Worksheet.” You usually would have a W-4 on file for each job, and both you and your spouse must fill out the W-4 form at your respective employers.
- If you have more than two jobs, or you and your spouse have more than two jobs between you, you will have to fill out sections 2 to 4(b) on the form for the highest paying job, and leave those slots blank on the W-4 forms for the other jobs. For the W-4 form, your lower-paying job is considered your second-highest paying job.
The W-4 form comes with a worksheet to guide you on how to use the salary from your lower-paying job and higher-paying job to determine the amounts to add to the appropriate lines.
If You Have Dependents
If you have dependents, you may be eligible for the Child Tax Credit. To be eligible, you must either be a single taxpayer making less than $200,000 or married and filing jointly and making less than $400,000. Multiply the number of dependents you have by the credit amount, and add that sum to line three.
If you have other dependents, you will have to review who the IRS counts as dependents beyond your kids to ensure you fill this part out accurately.
After filling out the essential information, you can specify if you want any additional money withheld from your paycheck. The information you provide in your W-4 may still result in your employer not withholding enough federal tax from your paycheck. For example, if you expect to earn income not subject to tax withholding. These sections on the W-4 are:
- Fill out 4(a) if you expect to earn “non-job” income that is not subject to withholding.
- Fill out 4(b) if you expect to claim deductions and therefore want to reduce your withholding. You will want to calculate this as accurately as possible to avoid any surprises come April.
- Fill out 4(c) to add any additional income you want to be withheld from each paycheck.
One of the most important steps to completing your W-4 is to sign and date it, as it is not valid until you do.
How to Complete a W-4 Form
Employees must accurately fill out their W-4 form to avoid any surprises come tax season, not only to avoid having to owe the IRS a large sum but to avoid living on less of your paycheque during the year than necessary. A W-4 form may seem confusing at first, but once you understand which parts of the form apply to you and how to fill them out, it is a much more manageable task. Luckily, most people don’t have to fill out W-4 forms too frequently.
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