When Can I Claim Exempt on My W-4?

Tread carefully before claiming exempt on your W-4 form.

Your W-4 is filed with your employer. Based on a number of allowances and exemptions you claim, your employer will withhold a certain amount of your income from each paycheck to cover taxes owed to the IRS. If you claim EXEMPT on your W-4, it means that no taxes will be taken out of your paycheck throughout the year to cover what you may owe to the IRS. Claiming exempt does not apply to everyone. Let’s find out why.

Am I eligible to claim exempt on my W-4?

If you want to claim exempt on your W-4, both of the following need to be true:

  1. For the prior year, you had a right to a refund of all federal income tax withheld because you had no tax liability.
  2. For the current year, you expect a refund of all federal income tax withheld because you expect to have no tax liability.

If one or both of these are false, then you will not be eligible to claim exempt on your W-4.

Are there any exceptions?

In some cases, claiming exempt is just not an option. Below are some reasons why it may not be for you:

  • If your income is $950 or more and at least $300 of that is from un-work-related income (ie: interest or dividend income), then you cannot claim exempt from taxes.
  • If you plan to claim dependents on your tax return, then you cannot claim exempt from taxes.
  • If you will be itemizing your deductions on your tax return for the year, then you cannot claim exempt from taxes.
  • If you are Age 65+ or blind, you must use IRS Worksheet 1-3 or 1-4 to determine if you can claim exempt.

I’m EXEMPT for tax purposes. How do I report that?

After doing some research and realizing that you are, in fact, eligible to claim EXEMPT on your W-4, you’ll need to report that. On your W-4, leave box 5 blank. If you have an amount in Box 5, that takes precedence over Box 7.

Box 7 is where you will simply write the word “EXEMPT”. This will ensure that no withholdings are taken from your paychecks.

What if I claim exempt on my W-4 without being eligible?

You can say hello to a pretty hefty tax bill after filing your tax return along with possible penalties. You are essentially the one responsible for what you report on your W-4. If it is incorrect, the IRS won’t let that slide come time to file your taxes. You’ll be issued a tax due amount with further instructions on how much you owe and payment options.

You could be facing a $500 penalty fee if both of the following are apply to you:

  1. You make statements or claim withholding allowances on your W-4 that reduce the amount of tax withheld from your paychecks.
  2. You have no reasonable basis for those statements or allowances at the time that you complete your W-4.

Although penalties from the IRS seem intimidating and sometimes just down-right unfair, they shouldn’t scare you out of claiming something you are eligible for. If you make an honest mistake, you won’t be penalized. It happens. These penalties and strict guidelines are instated in order to keep some sort of order in an organization which is literally trying to cater to the entire nation.

Is there automatic exemption for students?

Although students are loved in the retail and food industries with free fountain sodas at Chipotle and a 15% discount at Kate Spade, the IRS (unfortunately) doesn’t offer the same. Students are advised by the IRS to follow the same guidelines as other taxpayers.

Not to worry, though, students! There is a bright side after all. You may not be automatically exempt from income taxes but you are exempt from FICA (aka social security and Medicare) as long as you are enrolled as at least a half-time student.

When in doubt, ask for help!

It’s easy to fall into the IRS trap filled with tax jargon and W-4 confusion. For many of us, taxes are a thought in our minds only once a year. That’s why we’re here to help you. If you have a tax question and need help preparing your tax return for the year, reach out to our tax experts here at Rapidtax via livechat, email or phone.

147 Replies to “When Can I Claim Exempt on My W-4?”

  1. I am 45 and disabled. I have a part time job, but am only allowed to ear a certain amount per month before they take my disability. Would it be to my advantage to claim EXEMPT since I will always fall below the poverty average, or close to it?

  2. I claimed exempt because I never had a job before and the place I was working only paid $9.75 an hour for only 12 hours every week (I’m paid bi-weekly and I started my job this November?) But I want to get a seasonal job at another place during the summer but I’m not sure what I would put.

  3. I make more than $950 every 2 weeks. All of that is from regular full time work. Can I file exempt so as long as I do not file for a tax return at all? if so is that acceptable to do so immediately or wait till the beginning of a new year or job? I’m 29 btw with no kids. unmarried.

    1. From the situation that you outlined it through your message, it is advised that you do not claim as exempt for your W-4. Even though you are single with no kids, you may still be tax liable for an amount. Claiming as exempt on your W-4 pertains to how much income you earn and your personal situation, whether or not you file a tax return should not be used as a factor for claiming as exempt on your W-4

    2. You can’t just decide to not file a return because your return’s gross income is equal to, or exceeds, $10,400. So you are required to file a tax return.

  4. I am married with 1 child and had a part time job last year until now. My husband claim me and our son as dependents. Every year we file jointly and get refund. This year my employer wants me to update my W4, last year I claim zero allowances but I usually check the exempt box. Am I doing it right? Need help.

    1. For help with your withholding, you may use the IRS Withholding Calculator. This easy-to-use calculator can help you figure your federal income tax withholding so your employer can withhold the correct amount from your pay. This is particularly helpful if you’ve had too much or too little withheld in the past, your situation has changed, or you are starting a new job.

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