How to Fill Out a W-4 Correctly

Filling out a W-4 is less mind-boggling than you think.

One of the first things you have to do when you get a new job is filling out a Form W-4 [Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate]. It is essential to complete a W-4 correctly because it determines how much tax will be withheld from your pay and how large your tax refund will be.

The first half of the form is pretty easy. You just have to fill in your name, address, and marital status.

Then you have to figure out how many allowances to claim. This number will determine the amount of your withholding.

Number of allowances to claim

Generally, the number of allowances you should claim will correspond to the number of personal and dependency exemptions you can claim on your tax return, but this is not always the case. Claiming zero allowances will result in the maximum amount of tax withheld. Every additional allowance you claim on top of that means that a little less tax is withheld.

You’re a Dependent:

If you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return (ie: your parent’s, aunt’s, etc.), you should claim zero allowances. When you’re a dependent, the person who claims you get the benefit of your personal exemption and you, yourself, will end up owing slightly more in taxes. Hence, the tax should be withheld at the maximum rate of zero allowances.

You are Single: 

As a single taxpayer, your W-4 form is straightforward enough but you do have several options when it comes to claiming allowances.

  • If you’re single with one job, the allowances to exemptions ratio don’t exactly hold true. Most single people claim one allowance. However, this is likely to result in a refund. If you prefer the extra money after filing, then claiming one allowance is the choice for you.
  • Claiming two allowances would get you closer to your exact tax liability, but may actually result in some tax due. That being said, you would have more take-home pay throughout the year since your employer wouldn’t be withholding as much tax from your paychecks.

Essentially you can choose whether to claim one or two, depending on the rest of your tax situation, but it’s probably safer to claim one.

You are Married: 

Have you tied the knot? This can drastically change your tax situation. Don’t worry; it’s typically for the better. Being married opens up a few doors for you when it comes to tax benefits. You can now file a joint tax return. This is the absolute ideal filing status in regards to taking advantage of your benefits as a taxpayer. In most cases, being married also allows you to claim more allowances on your W-4.

  • If you are married with no children, you should claim two allowances.
  • If you are married with one child*, you should claim three allowances.
  • If you are married with two children*, you should claim four allowances.

*Check your eligibility to claim the child tax credit. This gives you more money after filing but also allows you to claim additional allowances on your W-4.

Other Situations: 

Things get a little more complicated if you have multiple jobs, your spouse works, or you intend to itemize your deductions. In these cases you should turn your attention to page two of the W-4:

  • Deductions and Adjustments Worksheet: Use this worksheet if you plan to itemize deductions on your tax return or claim adjustments to your income.
  • Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet: You will be directed to use this worksheet from the Personal Allowances Worksheet, line h. It is only necessary if you are married and earning a combined income of over $20,000 or if you are single with two jobs earning over $50,000.

The IRS also has a withholding calculator on their website that can give you a second opinion on how many allowances to claim.

The last thing you need to do is figure out if you are exempt from withholding. For most, this is not the case. Essentially, you are only exempt from withholding if all of the following is true:

  • you aren’t a dependent,
  • you had the right to a refund of all income tax withheld last year, and
  • you are not required to file a return this year.

If you are exempt, you can write exempt in line seven. You’re done! All you have to do now is sign the form and hand it over to your employer.

Update Your W-4 For A Larger Refund or More in Your Paycheck

Even if you’ve been at your job for a while, it’s a good idea to monitor and, if necessary, update your W-4 every year. This is especially true if there’s been a major event in your life such as a marriage or the birth of a child.

The goal is to get your refund or tax due as close to $0 as possible. Getting a big refund when you file taxes is a great feeling. It can also trigger that your withholding needs to be adjusted. The reality is that you could be enjoying that money throughout the year instead of having it withheld from your paychecks.

Regardless, during tax season you’ll need to report the total earnings and tax withheld on a tax return. Use RapidTax to file your taxes without a hassle and receive the maximum refund possible!


Get Your Refund

Fill out a W-4 correctly to have the necessary income withheld for tax.

777 Replies to “How to Fill Out a W-4 Correctly”

  1. I just started a new job on 9/30/2013,and my wife is unemployed and draws unemployment benefits while going back to school in the TRA program,my question is can I claim her on my payroll check.thanks.

  2. Hi. I just went back to work after 9 years and need to fill out a W-4. I’m married and have 4 children. I’d like to get as much of my earnings now rather than wait for a large return. What do I do? We file jointly. Thank you.

  3. I graduated in May and started my new job November 11. My husband also works. We have no kids. Is the number of allowances 1 or2? We will file jointly.

    Also on Deductions and Adjustments, I don’t know what an estimate would be for 2013 itemized deductions. We have a mortgage, and I paid only about 1500 for school this year. How should I get this estimate?

  4. I work a full time job and just got hired for a second job. Should I enter zero -0- for total number of allowance?
    If I am understanding this correctly, even though I got married (husband works) this year & will be filing jointly for the first time during Tax season this will not matter when calculating total number of allowances I am claiming.

    1. Hi Lilly,
      You should enter zero if you want to maximize the amount withheld from your paycheck and to be sure sure that you have enough tax withheld to cover your tax liability.

      It depends on what works best for you and your husband. This link on the IRS website will help you; it’s a calculator. You will be able to see what is the best option for you and your husband based on this calculator.

      1. Hi I am Tee. I am Married to one newborn. What am i suppose to put for a total number of allowance??
        am interested in less taxes taken out of my pay and also large refund when tax time comes around.

      2. Following the instructions from the W-4 as well as the situation you have described, two allowances would be a number of allowances you are qualified to claim. If you choose to claim three, there is no guarantee that you won’t be owing to the IRS a tax liability when it comes time to file your return.

      3. Hi! It’s my first year filing taxes. And well I’m not sure if I did the W-4 form right. I am single with one child. I recently started another job and I entered 1 allowance. But Im not sure if I had to put 2 allowances instead of 1 allowance.

      4. i just had to update my W4 for work.. this is the first time filling this out married and with a child.. I work and my husband can be considered not working or at least working less than even part time.. can I or should I claim head of household or no?

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