How Should Married Couples Fill Out a W4?

by Mike Parker

    If you are an employee of a company, your paycheck will have state, federal and, in some cases, local income tax withheld. The amount depends on two factors: how much money you make, and the information you provide on your Form W-4. Filling out a W-4 is pretty straightforward when you were single. It gets a bit more complicated when you're married, particularly if you both work.

    Step 1

    Gather your financial information and discuss your income tax situation with your spouse. The way you fill out your Form W-4 depends on a number of factors, including whether you will file separate returns or a joint return, whether you both work, and whether you have more than one job. You'll need to consider whether you will itemize your deductions or claim the standard deduction. A new job and new baby can affect how you fill out your W-4. It helps to get a copy of a blank W-4 and work on it together.

    Step 2

    Fill out your basic information. This includes your name, social security number, address and marital status. You have the option of claiming Single, Married or Married but withhold at the higher single rate. If your married name is different from the name on your social security card, you'll need to check the box on Line 4.

    Step 3

    Figure your allowances using the worksheet on page one of Form W-4. You can always claim one allowance for yourself and another for your spouse. You can claim an additional allowance if your spouse does not work and you don't have a second job, or if the additional job brings no more than $1,500 per year. You can add one allowance for each of your dependents. You can take additional allowances if your combined income is less than $90,000 and you are eligible to take the child tax credit. Add your allowances and enter the number on Line H of the worksheet. If both you and your spouse work, you'll need to make adjustments to your allowances by filling out the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet on page two of Form W-4. Enter the results from Line H or the worksheet on Form W-4, Line 5. Sign and date your Form W-4 and give it to your employer.

    Step 4

    Check the amount of your withholdings when you get your next paycheck to make sure your adjustments went through. You can submit an updated W-4 anytime you wish, and as many times as you wish. If you're afraid your employer is still not taking out enough money, request an additional amount to be withheld from each paycheck by completing a new W-4 and requesting the additional amount on Line 6.

    Tip

    • The greater the number of allowance you claim, the smaller amount of taxes your employer will withhold. You'll want to be as accurate as possible. If your employer withholds too little, you might be stuck with a big tax bill when you file your returns. You might even get hit with an underpayment penalty. If your employer withholds too much, you'll get a tax refund. Even though a fat refund is nice, it actually represents an interest-free loan to the government. The best course for many married couples is to withhold just enough that you break even come tax time.

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    About the Author

    Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.

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