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Every employee has to complete a W-4 to determine how much taxes to withhold from each paycheck.  The form needs to be completed accurately because it affects whether you’ll get a refund or owe the IRS at tax time.  You do not have to update your W-4 every year, but it’s a good idea to review your withholdings as life changes.  Getting married, having a baby, or starting a side gig can change your tax liability.  Here’s how to fill out your W-4 so you get it right.

Step 1: Enter your personal information

Start by entering your personal information such as your name, address, social security number and tax filing status.  You can file as single, married filing separately, married filing jointly, qualifying surviving spouse, or head of household.  Only choose head of household if you are unmarried and pay more than half the cost of running a household for you and a dependent.  Your filing status is important because it determines which tax credits you qualify for, your standard deduction amount, your filing requirement, and how much taxes you’ll pay.

Step 2: Account for multiple jobs or a working spouse

This section is for people who work more than one job, or file a joint tax return with their spouse who also works.  If there are only two jobs total and they pay around the same amount, you can just check box in option (c).  However, you will need to do this on the other W-4 as well.

Step 3: Claim your children and other dependents

This step estimates the amount of your Child Tax Credit and the Credit for Other Dependents for your future tax return.  You may qualify if your income is $200,000 or less ($400,000 or less if married filing jointly).  The Child Tax Credit is worth up to $2,000 for each qualifying child aged 16 or younger.  The Credit for Other Dependents is worth $500 per qualifying dependent.  Generally, if you work multiple jobs, you only want to complete step 3 on the Form W-4 for the highest paying job. 

Step 4:  Other adjustments

If you expect to receive other income, claim deductions outside of the standard deduction or want extra taxes withheld from your pay, enter it here.

Step 5:  Sign and date your W-4

Congrats!  You’ve made it to the finish line.  All that’s left is to sign and date your W-4, then hand it over to your employer’s human resources department.

Save time by using a tax withholding calculator

Want to make your life easier?  Use a tax withholding calculator to estimate the appropriate amount of taxes to have withheld from each paycheck.  Once you get your results, you can use the information to fill out your new W-4 and submit the form to your employer.  Each time you get paid, the money that’s withheld will be sent to the IRS on your behalf. By January 31st, you’ll receive a form W-2 from your employer reflecting your earnings and taxes paid for the prior year.  This information will be used to prepare your tax return which you can DIY using a tax program like