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Each dependent you claim on your W-4 form lowers your taxable income. If you earn $60,000 annually and claim three dependents, your income tax withholding is more than if you claim four dependents. The difference between three or four dependents also depends on your filing status.
Federal income tax withholding depends on your total number of allowances, which includes your dependents and your filing status. Since married status puts you in a lower tax bracket than single status, your filing status impacts your withholding amount.
Let’s say you claim a total of four allowances, which includes three dependents, on lines H and 5 of your W-4. You also claim married filing status on line 3 of the form. As of 2012, the Internal Revenue Service gives $3,800 per withholding allowance annually. Multiply $3,800 by 3 to get $11,400. Subtract $11,400 from $60,000 to arrive at $48,600. As of 2012, married persons whose wages after allowances are more than $25,500 but don't exceed $78,800 are taxed at 15 percent plus $1,740 on wages that exceed $25,500. Therefore, subtract $25,500 from $48,600 to get $23,100. Multiply $23,100 by 15 percent to arrive at $3,465 then add $1,740, which comes to $5,205 in federal income tax.
Assume you claim five allowances, which include four dependents, and married status on your W-4. Multiply $3,800 by 5 to arrive at $19,000. Subtract $19,000 from $60,000 to get $41,000. Your wages in excess of $25,500 are taxed at 15 percent plus $1,740, so subtract $25,500 from $41,000, which equals $15,500. Multiply $15,500 by 15 percent, then add $1,740, which comes to $4,065 in federal income tax. The difference between three and four dependents in this case is $5,205 minus $4,065, which equals $1,140. If you had claimed single filing status instead of married, you would apply the IRS tax rates for single status.
State income tax withholding rules vary by state. If your state uses a system that is comparable to federal income tax withholding, the same concept applies in determining the difference between three or four dependents. In this case, use your state revenue agency’s tax rates.
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