Do I Claim Zero, One, Two W-4 Allowances?

The last thing you want to do is frantically run up to your boss asking “How many allowances do I claim on my W-4?”.

Being aware of the number of allowances you are claiming on a Form W-4 [Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate]  is important for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, the number of allowances you claim on a W-4 determines the following;

  1. how much tax will be taken from your income (aka the withholding amount)
  2. the size of your tax refund

Steps to filling out a W-4

You’ll need to follow four simple steps when filling out your W-4 Form:

  1. Fill out your personal information (Name, Date of Birth, Address, Marital Status)
  2. Know the number of personal and dependency exemptions you are claiming on your tax return.
  3. Based on the number from step 2, use that number to help determine your number of allowances.
  4. Don’t forget to sign the W-4 and turn it into your employer!

The allowances you claim while filling out a W-4 if you are single will differ from the allowances you claim if you are married or have kids. 

Claiming zero allowances

  • The maximum amount of tax is withheld. Meaning, when it comes time to file your tax return you will most likely receive a refund.
  • You’re being claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

Claiming one allowance (ideal if you are single with one job)

  •  You’re single and have one job. Claiming one allowance will most likely result in a refund when you file your taxes.

Claiming two allowances

  • You are single. Claiming two allowances will get you close to your tax liability but may result in tax due when filing your taxes.
  • You’re single and work more than one job. Claim one allowance at each job or two allowances at one job and zero at the other.
  • You’re married.

Claiming three allowances

  •  You are married with one child.

Claiming additional allowances

  • File as head of household if you are eligible. You are able to claim additional allowances.
  • You had at least $2,000 of child or dependent care expenses that you plan on claiming credit
  • You’re eligible to claim the Child Tax Credit

Can I fill out a new W-4 form?

Yes, employees can submit a new W-4 form to their employee at any time during their employment. Have you recently started a second job, had a baby, or tied the knot? Life changes such as these should encourage you to update your W-4 withholding.

A great tool to help you while filling out a W-4 is the IRS Withholding Calculator,  located on the IRS website.

Claiming zero allowances means less take home pay, but a bigger tax refund during tax season.

The number you report on a W-4 will ultimately determine your take home pay and your tax refund. Don’t write down any number. Take the few extra minutes to really assess your situation and fill in the W-4 accordingly. By doing so you’re less likely find yourself in a difficult financial situation.

Then, when you’re ready to file your taxes, you’ll have a heads up on whether or not you’ll be receiving a tax refund!


Get Your Refund


Being aware of the number of allowances you are claiming on a Form W-4 is important to control your income.

1,551 Replies to “Do I Claim Zero, One, Two W-4 Allowances?”

  1. i am single and head of household i have 6 children what allowance should i claim to get the least taken out of my check i want a bigger paycheck

  2. I am married, Head of household with 2 dependent child and spouse( spouse not working) What allowance should I claim to get the least amount of taxes taken out of my paycheck? I’m not concerned with the refund just want a bigger paycheck.

      1. My husband claims head of household and both my daughter and i as a dependent. I just started working. What allowances should I claim on my w-4?

      2. Hi Sade,

        The amount that you claim will depend if your husband will continue to claim you as a dependent. If he does, then I suggest that you claim zero on your W-4. If he does not continue to claim you, then I suggest claiming one (for yourself) on your W-4. I also suggest that he continue to claim your daughter.

  3. I am head of household, single mom with 2 kids? I want a decent pay and a decent refund at the end of the year? What is my best route?


    1. Hi Naomi,
      Basically, the higher number of allowances you claim on your W-4, means less tax withheld from your paycheck. The lower number you claim means more tax is withheld from your paycheck but you’ll receive a larger tax refund when filing your taxes. In your case, I would suggest claiming 3.

      1. I have the same status as Naomi. Lets say if my income is higher than $80,000 a year should I claim 2 for each dependent and 1 for myself which is a total of 5 or is my salary not a factor in determining the number of claims.

        Thank you.

      2. Donna,
        Your annual salary is not a factor in completing a W-2. You can claim your dependents and yourself. The more allowances, fewer taxes are taken out of each check throughout the year, vice versa.

  4. I am single, Head of household with 1 dependent child. What allowance should I claim to get the least amount of taxes taken out of my paycheck? I’m not concerned with the refund just want a bigger paycheck.

    1. Hi Laura,
      I would suggest claiming 3 on your W-4. The higher the number you claim, the less taken out in taxes from your paycheck, although a number too high will force you to pay tax due when filing your taxes. In your case, 3 should be just right.

      1. I have the same status as Laura, however, my mom is suggesting I put exempt on my tax claim because I am barely starting a part time job at the middle of this month and its only $10 an hour which won’t amount to a whole lot by the time tax filing us due. She says to change my filing status as of the start if the new tax year and claim 0 because I myself would like to get a bigger refund.
        I am a widow with one child and head of house hold. Also what is child tax? And what are the qualifications? Thank you

      2. Hi Kim,

        I suggest claiming 3 however, you can always claim less on your W-4. Claiming less will help to ensure that you are having enough tax withheld from each paycheck.

        The Child Tax Credit is an important tax credit that may be worth as much as $1,000 per qualifying child depending upon your income. I also suggest taking a look at the Child Tax Credit IRS website page to see if you qualify to claim this.

      3. Kim, I highly feel that your tax return will come up as red flagged if you are head of house hold supporting yourself and a child working part time making only $10 per hour. You are obviously recieving income elsewhere which will have to be included in your tax return.

      4. That is not true. I have claimed head of house hold working part time making only 8 dollars an hour. And I have 2 children. We do not receive income elsewhere. It really depends on the area too. But it won’t make the taxes come up with a red flag….

      5. Hello! I am a head of household, single and no children. I am a server making 2.13/hour and have had to pay taxes around tax return time in the past. I believe then I claimed 0. The form suggests I claim 3, but want to know best option so I will not have to owe money in the end. Thanks for your advice!!!

      6. Hi Cassie,

        The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck each pay period. By following the instructions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4 Form, you will calculate the maximum amount that you should claim (Keep in mind that this worksheet will not be given to your employer or the IRS). However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount withheld. If you claim a larger amount, you’ll have less withheld. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      7. Hey I work two parttime jobs. I am married but dont live with him because he is in africa. I have one daughter and pregnant. I want a huge tax refunds and a big pay check. Yet I dont want to owe the irs money at the end. So what should I put on each of my 2 w2 form. Please

      8. Hello Ndeye,

        With two income sources, it is smart to either split the allowances between both jobs or claim all allowances on your W-4 for the higher paying job. If you would like a larger refund come tax time, then you want to claim less allowances. On the other hand if you want to see more in your wallet each pay period, you’ll want to claim more on your W-4. Keep in mind that although claiming a higher amount of allowances will allow you to see more money throughout the year, this increases the likelihood of you owing the IRS after filing.

      9. Hello. I am single, head of household with a full time and part time job. I have no children, how many allowances should I claim at each job?

      10. Hi Ciera,

        The first thing that I recommend doing is double checking that you qualify as Head of Household for tax purposes. Based on the information you have provided above, you aren’t supporting a “qualifying person”. The eligibility requirements are as follows:

        1. You must be unmarried as of December 31 AND
        2. You must have paid over half of the cost to run your home for the year (rent, mortgage, utilities…) AND
        3. You must have supported a qualifying person according to the IRS.

        If you do NOT qualify as head of household, I suggest that you claim one allowance. If you DO qualify as head of household, I suggest claiming two allowances on your W-4 form.

      11. Hello. So I’m single and would like to claim head of household. I really would love to have all my money now I don’t too much care for a big return. What number should I put on my w4? Help

      12. Hi Tina,

        Prior to updating your W-4 form, it is important to know that the more allowances you claim, the less income is withheld from your paychecks. The less allowances you claim, the more income is withheld from your paychecks. You are issued a refund if too much is withheld and you owe a tax due if too little is withheld. That being said, you should increase your withholding amount from whatever amount you are claiming now so that less is withheld from your paychecks.

      13. I somewhat get the whole w-4 allowances and tax exemption difference. So the same money you are being withheld every paycheck you will ultimately get back as a refund if you are owed? I have always claimed single with 1 dependent and no allowances on my w-4. This year I started a new job where I put 2 allowances on my w-4 and still plan to file single with 1 dependent. So the money I will lose on my refund should equal the money I am gaining every paycheck this year?

      14. From what I know, you can’t be “head of household” if you have no dependents. You are single with no children, with one job. You should claim 0 or 1. Anything else will probably have you owning taxes to IRS at the end of the year.

      15. Hi Shari,

        Since you are more concerned about receiving a larger refund, you’ll want to claim 2 allowances instead of 3. This will allow for more to be withheld from each paycheck throughout the year, in turn having the IRS issue you a refund after filing.

      16. Hello!

        Need your advice. For 2015, I claimed zero. However, I think I need to change that since Federal Tax $154, Social Security $114, Medicare $26 and VA State $76 are being deducted from my paycheck! YIKES! I never realized it until now.

        I am married, and have one child. We file together. I’m thinking to changing it to ONE or TWO, any advice? I do NOT like paying anything when it comes to submitting my taxes in the Spring. But I do like some return.

        Thanks for your help!

      17. Hi Isabel,

        As of right now, you are having the maximum amount allowed withheld from your paychecks to cover taxes owed to the IRS. Since you are married and will be filing a joint tax return, a good rule of thumb for the both of you to follow is to each claim one allowance for yourselves and then the spouse earning the higher income claim an additional allowance for your dependent child. Therefore, one of you will claim one allowance and the other will claim two.

      18. I wouldn’t worry so much about the refund. You honestly want to come as close to breaking even on your taxes as you can. This will allow for more money through out the year to invest or save.

      19. Im claiming 2 for my w4 n just wanted to know if I will get a tax return and if it would be a small tax return

      20. Hi Joyce,

        The refund amount that you will receive is determined by a number of different factors including your income, how many dependents you will be claiming, deductions and credits that are available to you, etc. Generally speaking, the higher amount of allowances you claim, the less income is withheld from each of your paychecks to cover taxes owed to the IRS. Claiming a high amount of allowances will result in less of a refund since less was withheld for taxes over the year. The less allowances you claim, the more is withheld from your paychecks to cover taxes that you are liable for. This typically results in a higher refund (or less tax due after filing).

        If your 2015 tax situation was similar to 2014, I suggest checking out our free tax calculator to get an estimate of what your tax refund will be based on more specific information that you have not provided above. Keep in mind that this will not be completely accurate since it is not yet the 2015 version of our calculator.

      21. I have 1 child he is in pre school and my husband is not working and I claimed 2 in my W4. Do you think I can have a refund ?
        Thank you

      22. Hi Celine,

        You may be eligible for a refund this year. This is dependent on a few other factors such as your income, filing status, etc. Please take a look at our 2015 tax calculator. All you need to do once you are on our website is begin answering the questions and you will be able to see your refund amount increase or decrease with each piece of information you enter. This is 100% free to try and we will not require you to enter any personal information. If you like what you see, feel free to create an account and begin entering your tax information. We are currently accepting tax returns and your return will be one of the first in line once the IRS begins e-filing on January 19th.

      23. Hi, I am a server making money from tipped wages and I am claiming single . I only work one job tak care of myself and no one can claim me as dependent. However, if I choose two will I still owe more money at the end of the year? Or should I claim 1 to avoid this issue? Also I’ve always claimed 0 and although I get no less than 2,000 back becaue I am a student I still end up owing at least 1500 to IRS

      24. Generally the lower your W-4 exemptions, the more tax is withheld. We wouldn’t be able to answer your question about why you still owe without looking at your tax returns.

      25. I am single with no kids and 1 job . As of today I realized that I was claiming 3 and while doing some research I found that I shouldn’t have . If I change it to 1 will less taxes be taken of of my weekly pay then when I claimed 3 ?

      26. Hello, I claim head of household with one income one dependant. I was wondering since I claimed exempt 10 times in between Jan 2016- Sept 2016 will I have to pay back taxes?

  5. I am married and my husband still live together with 3 children. Last year we filled for taxes jointly including all our children as dependant and of course me though i was not working.

    Now I got a job and I am wondering if i should also claim our 3 children as dependents on the W4 since my husband has already included them on his form. We don’t want to get to a situation where we owe the IRS. please advise. Thanks

      1. Lil
        You are confusing deductions with allowances. Claiming 3 allowances on your W-4 will give you more money during the year and a smaller refund at tax time. At tax time, when you file a joint return, together you will claim 3 deductions for the kids. Since you file a joint return, the 3 allowances on the W-4 is OK

      2. Hey there , hopefully you see this comment.
        So my husband works and I started to also. I put 0 as my allowance but we have 3 kids. Can I change that to 3 allowances? We will file together and he is the head of household. I don’t want to get into any trouble at tax time and owe money.

      3. Hi Diana,

        Something to keep in mind when completing your W-4 form is that it only serves as an estimate to your employer for how much of your income should be withheld each paycheck to cover the taxes you owe to the IRS. Claiming a low number of allowances allows for more money to be withheld from each paycheck and will result in a refund or less of a tax amount due. Claiming a higher amount of allowances will allow for less to be withheld and will usually result in a smaller refund or more tax due after filing. With each dependent that you will be claiming on your tax return, you can claim one allowance on your W-4 form. Assuming you will be claiming all three children come tax time, they can all be claimed as allowances on your W-4 form.

        What you want to be sure of is that you and your husband are not BOTH claiming three allowances. I suggest splitting them between your W-4 forms. It is typically most beneficial financially, when filing a joint return, for the spouse earning a higher income to claim the majority of allowances. If you both claim three allowances, then you will most likely have a tax amount due to the IRS because not enough tax was withheld from your paychecks throughout the year.

      4. I claimed 1 on my w4 and my husband claimed zero. We just filed out taxes and it took our whole refund. I don’t see how they could take almost 5,000 from us. We also have 1 child

      5. I am a single mother and have 1 child. Im married but we do not live together and file our taxes separately. Im trying to figure out if it is better to go exempt on my w4 form or claim head of house hold and claim allowances.

      6. Hi Hayley,
        There are more tax incentives if you file as head of household. In other words, you’ll get a larger tax refund when filing. As for your W4 form, if you do claim Head of Household, I would suggest claiming 2. If you are claiming the child as a dependent on your tax return, you can claim 3 on your W4 and will receive larger paychecks.

      7. I have a quick question. I am married but not living with each other. I filed head of household. I am trying to figure out how to receive a bigger paycheck and not as much of a large refund. I am currently claiming S1 but I still receive a large refund. Should I claim S3 or M3? Thank you

      8. Hi Lesley,

        The most financially beneficial filing status is married filing a joint tax return, as in you will pay the least amount of tax with this status.

        When it comes to allowances, the more you claim, the less is withheld from your paychecks. On the other hand, the less allowances you claim, the more is withheld from your paychecks.

        Based on your preference to have less of a refund and increased take-home pay, your best bet would be to claim married with 3 allowances.

      9. Hello,
        I would like to receive more back on my paychecks, than I do for my refund. I file head of household and also have two dependents, so my filing status is currently 3. I am aware that the higher allowances claimed allow for a larger paycheck and smaller refund, and the smaller allowances claimed allow for a larger refund. I simply want to receive more on my paychecks, but am wondering how high my allowances should be so that I also don’t owe money back to the IRS. Am I able to claim 5 or 6 without owing? I would appreciate any advice you can offer me. Thanks

      10. Hello Rebecca,

        The more allowances you claim, the less tax is being withheld from your income. This may result in a tax due at the end of the year. Keep in mind, your tax due depends on different factors such as the amount of income you are making as well. We advise that you speak with your employer or payroll department to guide you on the appropriate amount of allowances you should be claiming.

      11. you should claim head of the household if you live by yourself and you are taking care of everybody in the house then ur the head of the household not anybody else

    1. Ok. So when the IRS issues a refund, it does not pay you interest on that pre-paid bill.
      If you owe tax on April 15th BUT CANNOT PAY, you will have to pay both penalty and interest. However..if you owe & can pay, you will not have any additional burden. If you can estimate your tax obligation and save that over the year in an interest bearing account the you are golden–claim the highest number of allowances to get your Fed withholding down.

    2. You BOTH should NOT claim the children on your taxes. If he has already done so, it is better to just keep it at that. You cannot get a tax break twice on them. You will end up at the end of the year OWING money. You should claim “0” honestly b/c I can most likely assume you make less income & your income is probably supplimental. I myself have 1 child, I claim “0” && have them take out an additional $20/week… At the end of the year I am guaranteed to recieve my general taxes + that $ ($1,040) Now think of vacation $… You’re supplimental income just went a little bit further didn’t it?

      1. Why give the government free money $20/week when you know you’ll just get it back? they don’t deserve free money and getting interest on it, just do that yourself with a separate savings account.

      2. I can answer your question, Mike. Let’s assume Niccole DOES have the will power to deposit $20/week in a savings account. The amount of time, fuel to get to the bank, etc will more than outweigh the paltry amount of interest. What is the interest on $1,040 for a year? If she can find an interest bearing account at all, which is rare for that little money, she would make about $3.50 over the year. Then there will always be that one or two times per year when she can’t get out to the bank, or would rather spend her $20 on something else. Sure, the government will make a couple bucks on her money – but that is a guaranteed vacation fund every year, and her employer has the good graces to take it from her check automatically so she doesn’t even have to think about it. A lot of people overpay, knowing they are going to get a refund, just so they can have that one windfall per year. In today’s economy, most people are one paycheck from eviction. It doesn’t make sense to worry about the government hanging on to some extra money for you unless you’re paid in the seven figures somewhere.

    3. Hello, I am single with one dependent. I go to school and live with my mother. I do pay rent & other expenses (food, cable, WiFi etc.). I buy monthly transit passes and catch taxis daily. I claim two exemptions due to my monthly expenses but I’d like to see a nice refund! Do I change my allowances to 0 or keep everything the same? HELP before it’s too late please!

      1. Hi Adrienne,

        Assuming that you are not being claimed as a dependent on your mother’s taxes, I would advise you to claim one allowance for yourself and an additional allowance for your daughter. This should allow for a decent refund while also having less withheld from your paychecks than if you were claiming zero allowances.

      2. Hi there,

        I am single (no kids) not married, just started a new job, what do I put (0-1) for Fed. withholding? Any response is much appreciated!

      3. Hi Elise,

        Congrats on the new job!
        Based on the information you have provided above, those in your tax situation tend to claim between zero and two allowances. Claiming zero allowances will pretty much guarantee you a tax refund after filing for the year but it will allow your employer to withhold the maximum amount of tax from your paychecks over the year. Claiming two allowances will allow you to have more take-home pay but could have you end up owing the IRS a small amount after filing if too little tax is withheld from your paychecks throughout the year. Claiming one allowance may be your best choice. This will have enough tax withheld from your paychecks over the course of the year that you break even with the IRS after filing. If you complete your W-4 and submit it to your employer later realizing that too little or too much is being withheld from your income, you can update your W-4 at any point during employment and your employer is required to have it go into effect immediately for the next pay period.

    4. You should fill out the two incomes section on the second page of the W4. Your husband may need to update his as well. You want to get your withholding as close to your tax liability as possible. A big tax bill in April is no fun and a big refund just means you’ve been loaning the government money interest free.

    5. Yes you should claim them as dependents or don’t claim them at all if you don’t want to owe the IRS money save yourself the trouble .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *