Can a Person Select Single for Withholding Purposes Even Though They Are Married?

The marital status you claim on your Form W-4 will affect the amount of income taxes withheld from your paycheck. If you select single status, your employer will withhold more money because single people generally are taxed at a higher rate. Certain exceptions allow you to claim single status even if you are married. But if the exceptions don't apply to you, you can claim married status and ask that your withholding be made at the single rate.

Exceptions

Only three exceptions allow you to claim single status on your W-4 if you are married. The first exception applies if you are legally separated under a court decree. The next exception applies when neither you nor your spouse is a citizen or resident of the United States. The last exception applies when either you or your spouse is considered a nonresident alien for tax purposes.

Married, But Withhold as Single

Fortunately you can still get the single withholding rate if none of the exceptions apply to you. The W-4 has a check box labeled "Married, but withhold at higher Single rate." By making this selection you get the single withholding rate even though you are married.

Pending Divorce

Even if you are in the process of a divorce and you plan to file as a single taxpayer at the end of the year, you cannot change your status on the W-4 until after the divorce is final. You should submit a new W-4 within 10 days of the divorce decree.

Other Options

If your goal is to have more money withheld from your check, there are easier ways to accomplish this besides changing your filing status. You can either reduce the number of exemption allowances you claim on the W-4, or you can enter an additional dollar amount you want withheld from each paycheck.

Penalties

There are no penalties if you claim single status on your W-4 when you should have claimed married status. If you want to have extra money withheld from your check, that's fine with the IRS. The agency's enforcement of W-4 rules is targeted at people who have too little withheld from their check. If the IRS believes you are avoiding income-tax withholding, the agency can order your employer to increase the amount.

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About the Author

Alan Sembera began writing for local newspapers in Texas and Louisiana. His professional career includes stints as a computer tech, information editor and income tax preparer. Sembera now writes full time about business and technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Texas A&M University.

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