You’re about to start a new job. But before you can get to work, your new employer hands you a Federal W 4 Withholding Allowance Certificate, filling you with the dread of completing yet another tax form you don’t quite understand.

Don’t worry; we’re here to help! Below, we explain what W4 allowances are, what to claim on your W4 and how best to fill out that form and get your new career started on the right foot.

How many allowances should I claim?

Knowing how to fill out your W4 depends largely on knowing how many allowances you should claim. This is determined by your filing status, how many jobs you have, and whether or not you have dependents. For example, a single person with one job will claim fewer allowances than someone who is married with children.

Please note that the W4 personal exemption —which applied to taxpayers on a subsistence level of income—can no longer be claimed due to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This has been more or less replaced by a higher standard deduction, which has effectively been doubled by that same legislation. For this reason, it’s important to revisit how many W4 allowances or exemptions you’ve claimed in the past.

Here's a list of W-4 exemptions and how they affect your taxes

Claiming 0 Allowances

  • You should claim 0 allowances on your 2019 IRS W4 tax form if someone else claims you as a dependent on their tax return. (For example – you’re a college student and your parents claim you).
  • This ensures the maximum amount of taxes are withheld from each paycheck.
  • You’ll most likely get a refund back at tax time.

Claiming 1 Allowance

  • This is a good option if you’re single and only have one job.
  • You may also claim 1 if you’re married but filing jointly—or if you’re filing as the head of household (see def. here). 
  • You’ll most likely get a refund back.   

Claiming 2 Allowances

  • If you’re single and have one job, claiming two allowances is also an option.
  • You may get closer to your exact tax liability (aka break-even), but you need to be careful because this could still result in some tax due.
  • If you have more than one job and are single, you can either split your allowances (claim 1 at Job A and 1 at Job B), or you can claim them all at one job (claim 2 at Job A and 0 at Job B).
  • If you’re married, you can claim two allowances – one for you and one for your spouse. *

Claiming 3 Allowances or More

  • If you’re married and have a child, you should claim 3 allowances.
  • If you’re married with two children, you should claim 3 or more W4 exemptions.​

*If you and your spouse expect to file a joint return and you’re both employed, you will only complete one set of W4 forms. Add your combined income, adjustments, deductions, exemptions and credits to figure your federal withholding allowances. You can divide your total allowances whichever way you prefer, but you can’t claim an allowance that your spouse claims too.

If you’re married filing separate returns, use separate W4 worksheets and figure your allowances based on your own individual income, adjustments, etc.