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What Do You Do With a W-4 Tax Form?

Jo Willetts, EA

Director, Tax Resources

Published on: December 03, 2020

A W-4 form is an IRS tax form that you give to your employer (or their payroll service) which informs them how much of your paycheck you wish to have withheld and sent to the IRS to cover your federal income taxes.

Typically, you fill out this form when you start a new job. You can also give it to your employer at any time if you'd like to change how much tax is being withheld and sent to IRS based on your financial situation. 

Why would I need to fill out a W-4?

As an employee, you cannot control your social security and Medicare tax deduction or any state mandatory fund contributions such as family leave and disability funds. However, you can control how much federal income tax is automatically withheld from each paycheck by completing your Form W-4. This form helps you estimate your annual income, deduct dependent related benefits, and request any additional dollar amounts to be withheld.

The tax withheld is based on your filing status, how often your employer pays you, the expected income from the job, and your other income and deductions. While a new job is the most common reason for filling out a Form W-4, the following situations are also likely to generate the need to submit a new W-4 at other times during your time with an employer:

  • Marriage and divorce
  • Having children
  • Working multiple jobs
  • Picking up a side hustle, or planning a transition to freelancing or becoming self-employed
  • Major change in income
  • Becoming a homeowner, or other situation resulting in increased deductions

How do I fill out a W-4 Form?

The W-4 form was updated due to tax reform and the elimination of personal and dependent exemptions. The withholding tables are now based on dollar amounts relative to filing status, income and tax credits.

If your tax situation is simple, you only need to enter your name, Social Security number, filing status, and signature in Step 5. Your withholding will be based on your standard deduction and tax rate with no additional adjustments. If your tax situation is more complex, you need to complete Steps 2-5.

First, you need to complete the multiple jobs worksheet in Step 2 if it applies to you. In Step 3, enter the number of dependents if your annual income is expected to be less than $200,000 ($400,000 if married filing jointly). In Step 5, enter your expected deductions, other income aside from your job, and additional voluntary withholding.

Are there variations of W-4 Forms?

Yes. While only a Form W-4 can be given to employers, there are other forms in this series: W-4P for retirement income and W-4V for governmental payments like Social Security benefits and unemployment. Withholding is voluntary for these types of income, but recommended since they are subject to income tax.

Additionally, there are a state-level W-4 equivalent forms you should not overlook if you live in a state with income tax. For instance, New York residents must fill out an IT-2104 which has the same purpose as a Form W-4, except it's for state and city taxes. If you move to or leave the city but have stayed within the state, that could force you to change your state and local withholding, but your federal tax situation usually won’t change. If you only want to change one type of withholding, like state taxes, you do not need to file a new Federal Form W-4. The same is true of wanting to leave your state withholding as-is, you don't need to file a new state form and just need to submit a new Federal Form W-4.

Where do I get a W-4 Form?

You can download the Form W-4 for free from the official IRS website if your employer or payroll provider did not already give you one.

About the Author

Jo Willetts, Director of Tax Resources at Jackson Hewitt, has more than 35 years of experience in the tax industry. As an Enrolled Agent, Jo has attained the highest level of certification for a tax professional. She began her career at Jackson Hewitt as a Tax Pro, working her way up to General Manager of a franchise store. In her current role, Jo provides expert knowledge company-wide to ensure that tax information distributed through all Jackson Hewitt channels is current and accurate.

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