What Are Tax Allowances and How Many Should You Claim?

Income tax withholdings affect your paycheck and tax refund.

Since World War II, the federal government has required that employers withhold money from their employees’ paychecks throughout the year to pay federal income taxes. Employees determine the amount of withholding when they fill out a W-4.

You need to get your withholding correct so you don’t get hit with an unexpectedly large tax bill when you file your taxes. You also want to avoid the interest and penalties imposed by the IRS.

Learn More: What Is a W-4?

Minimum Tax Withholding Required

Generally, you must have tax withholding equal to at least 90 percent of your tax liability when you file your return, or 100 percent of your tax liability from the prior year. You also meet the requirements if you owe less than $1,000. If you don’t have enough income withheld during the year to meet the minimum requirements, you will owe interest and penalties when you file your tax return.

Do You Know: What’s Being Deducted From Your Paycheck?

What Are Withholding Allowances?

To determine how much to withhold from your paycheck, your employer uses the amount of your paycheck, how often you’re paid, and the information you provide on your W-4. In addition to indicating whether you will file single or jointly, you must also state how many tax allowances you are claiming. Each tax allowance you claim on your W-4 reduces the amount of your paycheck subject to income tax withholding.

How Many Allowances Should I Claim?

To figure the maximum allowances you should claim, use one of the following worksheets on your W-4:

  • Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet
  • Deductions, Adjustments and Additional Income Worksheet
  • Personal Allowances Worksheet

If you’re wondering how many allowances you should claim if you’re single and you have multiple jobs, or if you’re married and both you and your spouse work, complete the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet and claim all of the allowances on the highest paying job.

If you plan to itemize your deductions or claim substantial adjustments to income, use the Deductions, Adjustments and Additional Income Worksheet. But, if neither of those apply to you, use the Personal Allowances Worksheet.

The number of allowances on the worksheet represents the maximum that you should claim on your W-4. Make sure you’re not accidentally committing tax fraud by claiming the wrong number of allowances. If you claim the maximum withholding allowances, your withholding should mirror what you actually owe, meaning you’ll only owe a little or get a small refund when you file your taxes.

You don’t have to claim all of the allowances you’re entitled to, however, if you like receiving a large refund. The only downside to claiming too few allowances is that you’ll have too much withheld from your paychecks during the year. But, you’ll get that money back in the form of a larger tax refund when you file your return.

Large Refund? 20 Smart Things to Do With Your Tax Refund

When to File a New W-4

You can file a new W-4 at any time to adjust your income tax withholding. Anytime you have a major life event or a significant change in your income, especially if you have additional income that isn’t subject to withholding, you should review your allowances. For example, if you get married or divorced, start a new job or side hustle, or sell some investments at a gain, make sure to revisit your withholdings.

Click through to learn about the tax year dates you need to know.

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