What is a W-4 and why is it important? The W-4 is a tax form that is used by your employer to withhold the right amount of income tax from your paychecks. When you start a new job, you will fill out one of these forms. You should also submit a new W-4 if your personal or financial situation changes. Completing your W-4 accurately is very important because mistakes affect your refund, or your tax bill.

The most important aspect of the W-4 is 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.

Generally, the more allowances you claim, the less tax will be withheld from each paycheck. The fewer allowances claimed, the larger withholding amount, which may result in a refund. Listed below are the different number of allowances you can claim and how each one affects your taxes.

2018 W-4 Form with instruction page and Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.

Claiming 0 Allowances
  • The maximum amount of taxes are withheld from each paycheck.
  • You’ll most likely get a refund back at tax time.
  • Claim zero allowances if someone else claims you as a dependent on their tax return. (For example – you’re a college student and your parents claim you.)


Claiming 1 Allowance:
  • This is a good option if you’re single and only have one job.
  • 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.
    • If you and your spouse expect to file a joint return and you’re both employed, you will only complete one set of W-4 forms. Add your combined income, adjustments, deductions, exemptions and credits to figure your 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 W-4 worksheets and figure your allowances based on your own individual income, adjustments, etc.   


Claiming 3+  Allowances
  • If you’re married and have a child, you should claim three allowances.
  • If you’re married with two children, you should claim 4 allowances… so on and so forth.


If you have a trickier situation like additional tax credits or multiple jobs as mentioned earlier, then the two other worksheets will be helpful.

If you expect to itemize your deductions, claim certain tax credits or income adjustments, use the Deductions and Adjustments Worksheet to assist you. This includes claiming head of household, $2,000 or more in child or dependent care expenses, or eligibility for the Child Tax Credit.

If you’re single with more than one job or if you and your spouse both work, then refer to the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet.

Note: The worksheets are only to help you figure the amount of withholding alllowances you should claim. They are for your own records and shouldn’t be given to your employer.

When a life change occurs, it’s very important to update and make adjustments to your W-4. You can make changes anytime during the year, and some events require you to give your employer a new W-4 within 10 days. Check here and look under “Changing Your Withholding” to see these eligible events.

Valuable and free tax tools like the W-4 Withholding Calculator, Tax Organizer, Mileage Calculator, and Tax Calculator can be used to help with what to claim on your W-4 and keep track of all your necessary forms, deductions, and tax paperwork in response to new tax laws or if you start a new job or experience new personal circumstances so you aren’t caught off guard at tax time.

If you need more help filling out your W-4, talk to your tax preparer. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with important tax information!