Help Filling Out a W-4

Posted by on August 14, 2013
Last modified:
Help Filling Out a W-4

Your W-4 is an important thing to get right because it ultimately decides how big your tax refund is – or if you owe the IRS money

If you are an employee, you pay income tax through withholding – tax money your employer takes out of your paycheck each pay period.

You can determine how much gets taken out by filling out Form W-4 [Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate]. If too much gets taken out, you will receive a refund when you file taxes. If not enough is taken out, you will have to pay the IRS.

You will be asked to fill out a W-4 when you start a new job. But you can also fill out a new W-4 any time if you wish to adjust your withholding. You should especially be sure to do so after major life events such as getting married or the birth of a new child.

How to Fill Out the Form

The first part of the form should be easy enough. It’s just your personal information: name, address, social security number, etc.

The complicated part doesn’t come until line 5, when you have to enter the total number of allowances you are claiming. Allowances determine how much money is withheld from your pay. The higher the number of allowances, the less is withheld.

Most people will be able to use the Personal Allowances Worksheet directly above the form itself to figure how many allowances they should claim. A general rule of thumb to follow is that you should claim one allowance for every person in your family. For example, a married man whose spouse doesn’t work and who has two kids should probably claim four allowances.

Single people actually have something of a choice. They can either claim one or two allowances. Claiming two allowances means the tax withheld will likely ends up very close to their total liability, resulting in a very small refund or even a tax due. If you really want to be 100% sure that you won’t end up owing anything, it’s probably best to claim one allowance. More will be withheld, but you’ll also get a bigger refund.

Special Cases

Here are some tips to point you in the right direction, especially if you have an unusual situation.

  • Married couples who plan to file a joint return should calculate their allowances together and divide the total between them. You can use the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet on the second page of the form to calculate your total number of allowances.

Here’s what the IRS has to say about it: “If both you and your spouse are employed and expect to file a joint return, figure your withholding allowances using your combined income, adjustments, deductions, exemptions, and credits. Use only one set of worksheets. You can divide your total allowances any way but you cannot claim an allowance that your spouse also claims.”

  • If you plan to itemize deductions or claim certain credits or adjustments to income, there is a Deductions and Adjustments Worksheet on the second page of the form that can help you work out how many allowances to claim.
  • If you are an employee at more than one job, you can also utilize the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet on page two of the form.

Once you’ve calculated how many allowances you should claim, you can double check your work by utilizing the IRS Withholding Calculator.

Remember, that a tax refund is not necessarily a good thing. Although it’s nice to receive a big lump of money from the IRS when you file taxes, that’s money that you could have been spending, saving, or investing all year long. The goal is to get your estimated tax refund/tax due as close to $0 as possible.

Get Your Refund

Photo via Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr.


This entry was posted on at 1:01 pm and is filed under Tax Forms | Blog.

41 Responses to “Help Filling Out a W-4”

  1. Rosalinda says:

    I am single and receive a pension and going to start working part-time. Would it be wise to claim 1 or 0 on the w-4 form? Really would appreciate your help.

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Rosalina,
      If you claim 0, you will have more taxes taken out each pay period but will receive a larger refund when filing your taxes. If you claim 1, you will have less taxes taken out each pay period but will probably break even when filing your taxes, or receive a smaller refund.

      If you want to be safe and expect a refund when filing your taxes at the end of the year, claim 0.

  2. Rich says:

    I have just got married and will be filling jointly for the first time. Is it ok to keep my W4 still showing “single” and 0 – is that the maximum possible withholding? Basically we have lots of unknowns which aren’t covered by any easy worksheet, so it is not easy to work out what our total tax burden will be, and whatever happens we do not want to owe tax in the 2014 return.

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Rich,
      Yes, you can keep your W4 at 0, meaning the maximum tax will be withheld. This means you are much less likely to have tax due and more likely to receive a tax refund.

  3. vicki says:

    Im married and i have two kids. How or what can i do to get back more money on each payday? At the moment im getting back less on each paycheck then some of my co workers who make the same rate of pay and who are married with the same amount of kids and they get back more…what do i change on my forms at work? To get more back on each payday? Thank you.

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Vicki,

      Keep in mind that the more allowances that you claim, the less that is withheld from your paychecks (with a smaller refund at the end of the tax year).

      For example, if I claim three allowances, I am getting a higher paycheck each week than someone who is claiming zero or one allowances. However, I am also receiving a smaller refund at the end of the financial year or even increasing my chances of owing money to the government.

  4. Viki says:

    Do both, spouse and I have to fill out the two earner worksheet on the W4 or the one with the highest paying job out of us?

    Thanks for any help

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Viki,

      Your withholding will typically be most accurate when all allowances are claimed on the W-4 for the highest paying job and zero allowances are claimed on the other.

  5. Kasia says:

    I have 2 questions: First, I am separated, but still married. Which filing option do I choose? Single or married filing separately? Or it doesn’t matter?
    Second, I have a child who can be claimed as my dependent only. How many allowances do I claim? And what is the best scenario for me? I am a full time graduate student and would like to assure I bring home as much as possible, but also want to make sure that I don’t owe anything in the end. Thank you.

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Kasia,

      According to the IRS, your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year. Single filing status generally applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to state law.

      When it comes to claiming allowances, the general rule is that the more you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. 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.

      I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  6. carissa says:

    I am married and have 3 children. We have been a single income family for 10 years, but I just started working this past July. My husband claims us as dependents. Am I supposed to claim 0 on my form? We file jointly every year. This is just new territory for us and some direction would be appreciated! Thanks!!

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Carissa,

      Since you are now employed and bringing in an income, I suggest claiming one on your W-4. It is typically more financially beneficial for the spouse with the higher income to claim the majority of dependents. If your husband has the higher income, then I suggest that he continue to claim your children (and vice versa if you have the higher income). If you both have incomes that are about equal, then I suggest splitting the dependents each of you claim.

  7. Sophia says:

    I just got married to someone out of the country that is going to school. As of right now I filled out 3 allowances on my w-4, because I am married, and only have one spouse working. Is this correct?

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Sophia,

      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.

  8. Carlton says:

    I am 18, unmarried, dependent, and have two jobs. For item H, I have put 0. I am not sure if I should fill out the Deductions and Adjustments worksheet… What does it mean?

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Carlton,

      I suggest claiming zero or one on your W-4 form. The worksheets are only to be used as a guide for you. The only part of the W-4 form that is to be provided to your employer is the bottom half of the first page. You will typically only need to reference the deductions and adjustments worksheet if you plan to itemize your deductions on your tax return when you file.

  9. Franz says:

    Hi, How do I fill up a W4. I was recently separated from my husband but yet divorce. I have 2 kids. Can u help me fill up my W4. I have 1 job as caregiver and will have a part time job in the weekend. What is allowance? Should I file Single or still married, filing separately? Please help. Thank you so much.

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Franz,
      Yes, I would love to help. If you plan on claiming your children on your tax return, I would suggest claiming 2 on your caregiver W4 form. On the W4 for your part time job, you should claim 1.

      As for your filing status, you will file as married filing separately since you are not yet divorced. Once you are divorced, you will file as single. If you are using RapidTax to file your taxes, do not hesitate to reach out to our tax team by phone or email with any further questions you may have.

      Best of luck!

  10. james says:

    Im a single father of one….should I claim 1 or 2

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi James,

      If you prefer to see more money in each paycheck, claiming 2 allowances would be best. However, claiming 1 would allow for a larger refund after filing your tax return. Unfortunately, there is no magic number to fill out your W-4. However, I would not suggest claiming more than 2 allowances if you prefer to not owe the IRS.

  11. jailin says:

    I’m 17 single and no kids and in 2014 my parents claimed me as dependent, Im going to work part time how many allowances should I have?should I fill out the deductions and adjustments worksheet?

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Jailin,

      Seeing as your parents will no longer be claiming you as a dependent, I suggest claiming zero or one allowance on your W-4 form. Zero allowances will allow for the IRS to withhold more taxes from each paycheck. This typically results in a higher refund issued at the end of the year with less take home pay. Claiming one allowance will result in a smaller refund but more take home pay. As the choice is yours within reason, you should choose what your financial situation will allow.

      When it comes to completing the Deductions and Adjustments worksheet on page 2 of your W-4 form, you’ll only want to complete this if you will be itemizing deductions when it comes time to file your tax return. People will typically choose to claim the standard deduction (which is a fixed amount depending on the tax year) over itemizing their deductions. Itemizing requires you to keep record of every expense you decide to report and the expenses must equal more than the standard deduction. For more information on the specifics, refer to the IRS website page which addresses the standard deduction VS. itemizing deductions.

  12. jay says:

    I earn approx 250k per year and wife makes 50k. 2 kids with paid off house. I get a big tax payment every year and tired of paying it. Would like to have a small return rather than pay tax bill at end of year.
    On W-4 how many dependents should I claim. I think I should only claim myself so have total of 1 on W-4 to take more out of pay chaeck

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Jay,

      Claiming one allowance may be best in your tax situation. You really have a lot of leeway when it comes to your W-4 form. It should ideally reflect what you will be claiming on your tax return, however, if you prefer to have a bigger refund with less money throughout the year from your earned income (or vice versa), then the choice is really yours. As long as you are being completely honest on your actual tax return, then the IRS gives you full reign with your W-4 form.

      Claiming one will definitely lessen the tax bill that you have received in past years. It may even leave you with a nice refund from the IRS.

  13. Farrah says:

    I am single, not head of household and have a part time job and a full time job. It looks like I’ll end up owing taxes this year cause I made over $30,000. Should I file 2 at the full time job and 1 at the part time job? I’ve always filed 1 at both but it looks like my check is shorter at the full time job. A big refund would be nice to have next year. Please let me know what I should do? Thanks

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Farrah,

      When completing your W-4 form, the important thing to keep in mind is that the more allowances you claim, the less income is withheld from your paychecks to cover your tax liability. If too little is withheld from your paychecks throughout the year, then you will end up owing the IRS after filing your tax return. If you claim less allowances on your W-4 form, then you will have more income withheld from your paychecks. If an excess is withheld, then you receive a refund from the IRS after filing your return. Either way, it is the same amount being paid to the IRS.

      For your tax situation, if you typically claim one allowance on each W-4 and ended up owing the IRS, you want to lower the amount of allowances you are claiming. I suggest claiming zero allowances on one (or both) of your W-4 forms if you prefer a refund over owing the IRS.

  14. Ana says:

    I am married, separated not yet divorce no kids either. I make $80K a year while my still husband makes $140K. Since we got married he asked me to fill my W4 up as “single” “zero” (no deductions) so I feel they are taking way too much from my paycheck. We always file “join” and In 6 years of marriage I have never seen a return from the IRS and actually we end up paying about $4000 in taxes every April, which I am responsible for half. The other day I saw he is claiming “marry” “4” while I claim “single” “zero” and while they hold a lot from my check, I am still liable for at least 2k every April… Could my still husband be taking advantage of me? Show I clam “marry” “2”? What is your advise for me? I am just tired with the fact I can’t not even afford rent by myself right now and I am still owning to the IRS….

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Ana,

      Based on what you mentioned in your comment, your theory may be correct. You see, the more allowances you report on your W-4 form, the less is withheld from your income (and the more you receive in your paychecks). The less allowances you report, the more is withheld. Claiming zero allows your employer to withhold the maximum amount to put toward taxes. If you are filing a joint tax return, then everything is equally split. Based on the amount of allowances you and your husband are currently claiming, he is having less income withheld than you are. Come tax time, you will both still be responsible for the entirety of the tax due. Currently your income is going toward the majority of the tax due. That being said, if you plan to file a joint tax return again for this tax year, I suggest updating your W-4 form to claim more allowances. You don’t want to face a large tax bill after filing and also high withholdings throughout the year.

  15. Charli says:

    I am a single mother of 1. Head of household and am currently renting a town home. I would like to withdraw the least amount of taxes as I can out of my paycheck.
    However, I do not want to owe anything either. How would I go about doing that?

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Charli,

      In order to get the most out of your paycheck without necessarily owing the IRS after filing your tax return for the year, the best thing to do is follow the personal allowances worksheet on page 1 of your W-4. This will allow you to claim the maximum amount of allowances based on your specific tax situation.

  16. Russell says:

    My wife has her first job since we got married six years ago, she works part time and I work full time. We live in Washington State and she is paid the current minimum wage of $9.47 and I make $10.00 per hour. I just started my job and there is only 10 weeks left in 2016. How do I fill out the “Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs” worksheet on the 2016 W-4 form?

    • Tax Advisor says:

      Hi Russell,

      On page 2 of the W-4 form, you’ll see the Worksheet. Use tables 1 and 2 and the married filing jointly columns to fill out lines 1-9. Once you calculate your amount on line 8, you’ll divide that amount by the number of pay periods left in the year (NOT the total amount of pay periods for the whole year). That amount will be on line 9. This is the additional amount you will withhold from each paycheck. Remember to split that amount between the two of you.

  17. DIXIE says:

    I started back working again in November. My employer automatically done the w-4 form as exemption 1. No taxes are being taken out when have 80 hours, @ $634. How do I claim on my w-4 form without having to owe taxes? My husband & I both work. He makes the more $ an hour than I do. He doesn’t have any money hardly taken out of his check either when he makes nearly $400/ week for 30 hours. What is the difference with allowances and exemptions?

    • The higher amount of allowances you claim will result in you being exempt from being taxed more. You can discuss with your employer on changing the number of allowances you would like to claim on your W-4, and the lower the value, the more taxes you will have end up being withheld from your payroll check throughout the year. The advantage of this is that you are more than likely due a refund at the end of the tax year for over payment of taxes rather than having a tax liability by the new tax season cycle.

  18. nada says:


    I will start working full time. I am single and dependent. using the personal allowances worksheet shows that I should claim 3 allowances. I wonder if i should input 1 instead to avoid owing IRS by the end of the year. my income would be 50k/year.

    • As to how many allowances you should claim on your W-4, generally the more allowances that you claim, the less taxes the IRS will withhold from your payroll. The lower amount of allowances that you claim, will allow them to withhold more taxes from your paychecks. And when you are ready to file your 2017 tax return, you can visit our website where we will be able to assist you with filing through the tax season.

  19. Siarra Adams says:

    I am single with no kids I work one full-time job and one part-time job currently I’m claiming 0 at both jobs but I’ve been having second thoughts wondering if I should claim 0 at one job and claim one at the other which job should I claim 1 or 0 at the job that I make the most money at or the job that I make the less money at yearly thank you please help

    • Please follow the instructions on the W-4 form for both jobs. It is very likely your allowance count for each job is “1”, depending on how much you make at each job this could change.

  20. Juli Fernada says:

    Hi, I start a work tomorrow and I need help to fill out my W4.
    Im divorced and I have 01 kid 7 year old, my dependent.
    my annual salary will be 50k

    line A; 1
    Line B: blank
    line c: blank
    line d: 1
    Line e: blank
    line f : blank
    line G: blank
    line H: 2???

    I want receive my pay check good and not pay tax

    • Tax Advisor says:

      From the situation that you have outlined, you can claim up to 3 allowances, however, if you are also going to file as head of household, you can claim up to 4 allowances.

  21. CC says:

    I am a military spouse and we have 1 child. How do I calculate my allowances on my W4 form? What’s my final number of allowances? I do not want to owe close to anything at the end of tax season. I’m not having anything withheld from federal.l right now.

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