Blog Home

How to Determine Your W-4 Allowances

How to Determine Your W-4 Allowances

W-4 allowances is a common topic of confusion.

If you are filling out a W-4 and have no idea how many allowances to claim, you’re not alone. Most people don’t know how to fill out a W-4.  However, it’s very important to be aware of the number of allowances you claimed or plan to claim, or you may end up having to pay a lot in taxes.

The W-4 form determines how much tax is withheld from your paycheck each pay period. That means, if there too much tax withheld throughout the year, you’ll end up receiving a tax refund when filing your taxes. The opposite is also true. If too little tax is withheld from your paycheck, you’ll end up having to pay taxes later on.

What determines the number of allowances to claim?

The number of allowances you claim on your W-4 is dependent on your life circumstances. It depends on the number of jobs you have, if you’re married or single and how many children and personal exemptions you have along with your stance in the federal tax table.

The following explanations will help you determine how many allowances to claim. Another great tool is the IRS Withholding Calculator. The W-4 allowance calculator determines your withholding based on your specific life details.

I’m single and have no kids, how many allowances should I claim?

  • Claiming Zero: If you claim zero, the maximum amount in tax is withheld from your paycheck. This means you’ll most likely receive a refund when filing your taxes.

  • Claiming One. If you are single, have no kids and have one job, you should probably claim one. This means, you’ll probably receive a refund when filing your taxes and you also won’t have the maximum amount taken out from your paychecks.

  • Claiming Two: If you are single and work more than one job, you can claim two at one job and zero at the other, or claim one at each job.

I’m married with no kids,  how many allowances should I claim?

  • Claiming Zero: If you have a combined income that falls within the 28% or higher tax brackets, claim zero and you will owe less money during tax time.

  • Claiming One: If your combined income falls below the 28% tax bracket and you both work, you should each claim one. You’ll break even or get a small refund back when filing.

  • Claiming Two. If only one of you work and your  income falls below the 28% tax bracket, you should claim two.

I’m married with one child, how many allowances should I claim?

  • Claiming One: If both spouses work, it’s best for each of you to claim one. This way you will probably will break even come tax season.

  • Claiming Two: If only one spouse works, the working spouse can claim two and will probably come close to breaking even when filing taxes.

For each additional child or dependent, just add one to the number of allowances based on the the example above.

Someone is claiming me as their dependent, how many do I claim?

  • Claim Zero: If you are being claimed as someone’s dependent, you should claim 0.

Life changes everyday. You will need to change your W-4 allowances if you have recently had one of the following occur in your life; marriage, divorce, a new child, a second job, the purchase of a new home, etc. The bottom line is, the more allowances you claim, the smaller amount of taxes your employer will withhold. If too little is withheld, known as under-withholding, you could end up with a large tax bill when filing.

If you forgot to file taxes from a previous year and curious if you had too much or too little tax withheld based on your W-4 from that prior year, you can file online now. Filing taxes on PriorTax is a straightforward and quick process. Why not start filing now?

 Photo via Kristen Fenton on Flickr

Tags: ,

71 Responses to “How to Determine Your W-4 Allowances”

  1. Julie Rose says:

    I am unemployed. I am married and my husband works full-time. We are expecting our first child in a little less than 3 months. how many allowances should my husband claim both federal and state?

    Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Hi Julie,

      I would suggest your husband claiming 3 allowances on his W-4. Keep in mind, the fewer allowances he claims (1 or 2), the more likely he is to receive a larger tax refund although more tax will be withheld from his paychecks.

  2. Bridgette says:

    Hi I have never filled out a W-4 form I’m a single parent with 5 children and I have a part time job how many allowances do I claim

  3. Taylor says:

    I have been working full time, my wife has not. I claim 2. She recently picked up a self employed nanny job. Can I claim a withholding allowance for her still?

  4. heather says:

    I am a single mother of one. I claimed 2 on my w4 and no federal is being taken out of my checks. I have a full time job. How will these affect my tax return.

    • admin says:

      Hi Heather,

      The amount of federal income tax withheld from each paycheck is based on your gross income and the number of dependents that you claim on your W-4. I would suggest using the IRS Withholding Calculator tool to double check that your employer is correct in not withholding any federal income tax from your checks.

  5. danielle says:

    Please help me with one question, can I still file my 2011 tax return and get the money direct deposited? I have to re print it before mailing because the account I originally used is now closed…. is it to late to get my money for 2011?

    • admin says:

      Hello Danielle,

      You can still file your 2011 tax return and receive your refund. However, the refund can no longer be direct deposited. You’ll receive a paper check in the mail.

  6. Sandy says:

    I am retired and a widow with no dependents. should i be claiming 0 or 1

  7. Avinash says:

    I have one full time job and my wife doesn’t work, How many allowances can I claim?

    • admin says:

      Hello Avinash,

      I would suggest claiming 2 allowances on your W-4. Keep in mind, the fewer allowances you claim, the more likely you are to receive a larger tax refund although more tax will be withheld from your paychecks.

  8. Cherice says:

    Hi, I just started a job and am not sure how many to claim on my girlfriendw4. It’s me, my girlfriend and our 9mo old son. I would like a bigger paycheck but don’t want to owe taxes at end of the year.

    • admin says:

      Hello Cherice,

      According to the IRS, the following guidelines must be met in order for you to be able to claim your girlfriend on your tax return since she is not a relative:

      1. they must have lived with you for entire calendar year
      2. they must make less than $3,900 as their gross income for the year
      3. you must have paid for more than 50% of your partner’s living expenses during the calendar year
      4. cannot be a qualifying child

      If she meets this criteria then you will be able to claim her as a dependent. You can claim your son as a dependent. Keep in mind that the more allowances you claim, the more money in each paycheck. However, you will also have a smaller tax refund. For more information, you can always refer back to the IRS website and answer several questions about who you can claim as a dependent.

  9. Dana says:

    I just started a new job and trying to complete the Form W-4 but I’m confused. I am a single mother of one with one full time job. Also, I’m head of the household. how many allowances should I be claiming on both federal and state?

  10. Stephanie says:

    I am married with 3 children. My husband has 2 jobs, therefore makes more money. I am starting a new job and I am filling out the W4. I do not know the number of allowances I should claim. I do not know what he claimed on his W4. What is a good number to claim?

    • admin says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      The amount of allowances that you should claim depends on a few different factors in your situation such as if you are eligible for the child tax credit, if you are filing as head of household, etc. I suggest using the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes and will ask you several specific questions that will give you the most beneficial amount to withhold under your circumstances.

  11. Christie says:

    I’m single, no dependents or children and one job with $35,000 salary a year. $543 of taxes gets taken out of my paycheck per month. What should I claim so that I get more money in my paycheck? I would rather put that money per month somewhere else rather than getting a big tax return in April 2015. Should I claim 2?

    • admin says:

      Hi Christie,

      If you increase the amount of allowances that you claim, you will have less money withheld from each paycheck but a smaller refund (or a higher chance of owing at the end of the tax year). Keep in mind that if you are claiming zero allowances, you are having the maximum amount being withheld from your paychecks. I am going to assume that you are claiming either zero or one so by increasing your allowance amount to two, your paycheck amount should increase.

  12. Paul says:

    Hi, My wife just got a part time job, I work full time and claimed our children on my W-4 can my wife claim them on her tax return or just claim herself?

    • admin says:

      Hi Paul,

      As long as you are claiming your children, your wife cannot (assuming you two are filing separately). However, you can split the amount of allowances that you have been claiming solely on yours.

  13. John says:

    I’m single, no dependents or children, one job with a $35,000 salary per year, and my mother still claims me as a dependent. I currently claim zero allowances for both Federal and State. Can I claim more for Federal, State, or both?

  14. martha says:

    Hi I got married last year in November and we filled taxes together, and I recently changed my paychecks to 3 allowances since I claim my mom, we are now expecting a baby next month, my husband has no allowances I was wondering if we both can have allowanceson our paychecks, I am actually going on maternity leave would that affect anything? Or whats best for us that we dont have to pay taxes at the end of year but still have enough for bills and rent ?

    • admin says:

      Hi Martha,

      You and your husband can both claim allowances. Keep in mind that the more allowances you claim, the more money you will see each paycheck. However, this also decreases your refund amount (or increases your chance of owing money) at the end of the tax year. With that in mind, I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator as another great reference point. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most appropriate amount of allowances to claim based on the specific answers you provide.

  15. Beth says:

    My husband started a new full time job and we’re having trouble filling out W4. I will now stay home with our 2 children. Confused on how to know how to fill out so not too much or too little is taken out of his paychecks??? We’re used to getting a decent tax return.

    • admin says:

      Hi Beth,

      I suggest using the IRS Withholding Calculator as a point of reference for your situation. It only takes several minutes to complete and will give you and your husband the most appropriate amount of allowances to claim based on the answers you provide. Also, keep in mind that the more allowances your husband claims, the more money he will see each paycheck but the less money he will receive as a refund (also increasing his chances of owing money).

  16. Cheryl says:

    I feel my husband is having too much in taxes taken out of his paycheck. We both work full time. He is claiming single and 1; I claim married and 0 and have an additional $42 in federal taxes taken out. For the last 2 years we have not claimed my daughter as her father has claimed her on his tax return due to him paying money towards her college education. This year we will be receiving student loans so I will be claiming her. My goal is NOT to get back a large refund. Breaking even would be good for me, but my husband is always looking for a refund. I was previously self employed; however I am no longer and we always had to pay. I’m thinking my husband should change his withholding to married and either 0 or 1. I’m so confused as to which would benefit. Could you please give your advice.

    • admin says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. This only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim based on the specific answers you provide so that you reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  17. AVA says:

    I am 18 years old, and have a temporary full time, minimum wage job. I just got a new part time job on top of the full time. On the first W4 I claimed zero because I want max taxes taken out. My mom will claim me as dependent. I am going to be filling out the W4 for my second job soon. Should I claim 0 if I am dependent or 2 since it is my second job?

    • admin says:

      Hi Ava,

      You can still claim zero allowances. I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim based on the specific answers you provide.

  18. Jason says:

    Hi, I am a married man and my wife does not work. I am making a little less than 40,000/year. I get paid twice a month. We just had our first baby in April and obviously qualify for the Child Tax Credit for 2014 taxes. I also contribute to a 401k plan. Currently I am claiming 2 personal allowances. After I went to IRS Withholding calculator and input my current information it said my anticipated income tax for 2014 is $0. It also suggests I change my personal allowances to 6. Does this make sense? Thank you.

    W-4 form
    A-1
    B-1
    C-1
    D-1
    G-2
    H (add lines A through G) = 6

    • admin says:

      Hi Jason,

      The IRS Withholding Calculator gives the best estimated amount of allowances to withhold so that you reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      • Scott says:

        I’ll be starting a new job in September (post Military) and so am filling out my W4. I’m in the same boat (nonworking spouse, plus daughter), and after reading the IRS info, listed six exemptions. However, my auditor friend advised me to claim married three. Isn’t married already factored in on Option B? So that doesn’t make 100% sense to me. Also, I understand what you are saying admin, but I am still confused. So are we going by the rules/what the IRS advises, or are we just picking a magic number out of the air? I guess I need a bit more clarity.

        • admin says:

          Hi Scott,

          I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator and going with that amount as that will get you closest to a break-even point at the end of the tax year based on the information you provide.

          As far as the rules for completing your W-4, as long as you can prove the allowances you are claiming, you may do so. You wouldn’t be picking a “magic number” out of nowhere however, you do not need to claim all possible allowances if you prefer to have more taxes withheld from each paycheck.

  19. Denise says:

    Hi i jist got a job and have no idea how to fill out that w-4 paper they give you when u get hired. I am married with a house and with one child. My husband makes the real money i just have a part time job for a little extra cash. What do i put for the allowances? He said 2 for me and my child but im thinking 1 to be safe so we dont owe anything at the end. Ill only be making about 7500.00 a year

    • admin says:

      Hi Denise,

      I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you an accurate amount of allowances to claim to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

  20. Leasha says:

    Hi I’m 17, single, and a dependent. I recently got two jobs, both are extremely part time, and i’m not too sure on how to fill out my w4 form. i know in line 5 and 6 i have to write zero, but im not sure if i should write “Exempt” on line 7. also, since im single and have two jobs, do i fill out the second half on the second sheet? or does that not apply because im a dependent…

    • admin says:

      Hi Leasha,

      I suggest taking a look at the IRS Tax Trail Tool for exemptions. This tool will help you to determine if you qualify as exempt.

      Once you find out if you qualify as exempt of not, you can use the IRS Withholding Calculator to determine the most accurate amount of allowances to claim based on your current circumstances. This tool will help you reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  21. Wales says:

    Hi,

    I am a full time college student. I will be working a 35 hour, full time internship for the next 6 months, so I won’t be in school during that period. I live with both my parents, but I filed my own taxes. Do I claim 0 or 1 for my allowances? I also have a good scholarship from my college. Will that be a factor?

    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi Wales,

      If you claim zero allowances, you’ll see a bit less in each paycheck than you would see if you claim one allowance (but possibly a higher refund at the end of the tax year) so it depends on your preference.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out (meaning smaller paychecks). If you claim a larger number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  22. Josh says:

    Hello, my girlfriend is somehow claiming a 3 with no dependents. Her gross pay is $41k a year, but she is getting almost $500 taken out of her paychecks. She does not have any children with only one job, what should she claim to get a bigger paycheck?

    • admin says:

      Hi Josh,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  23. Josh says:

    That’s what I understand, however, correct me if I’m wrong, but you can’t claim whatever you want you have to follow rules i.e. you can only claim 0 if someone is claiming you, you can only claim 2 if you are either married or have 2 jobs and you can only claim 3 if you are married with a child.

  24. Marquita says:

    Hey, I have a full-time job and no kids but I claim my brother who is disable. How may allowances should I put on my form?

    • admin says:

      Hi Marquita,

      I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. This only takes a few minutes to complete and will be able to give you the most appropriate amount of allowances to claim to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year based on the specific information you provide.

  25. leeann says:

    I’m single with one child how many should I claim?

  26. Andrea says:

    Hello!

    I am separated (for over a year) and my (ex) husband and I file separate tax returns (married-filing separate).

    We have two children together and we each claim one on our tax returns.

    I am employed with a full time job and pay child care expenses all by myself.

    My question is 1) Do I file Married or Single for tax withholding, and 2) What should I put for my total allowances. The calculator says I should claim 6, but that seems way too high.

    Thank you.

    • Andrea says:

      I should probably add that I do pay him child support monthly because he does not work. I don’t know if this makes any difference.

    • admin says:

      Hi Andrea,

      According to the IRS, your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year. Single filing status generally applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to state law.

      As far as your withholdings are concerned, I suggest researching if you are eligible for the child tax credit since it is safe to assume you will be claiming your two little ones. The reason the calculator is at six withholdings is because it is probably taking into account that you are eligible for this credit.

  27. Josh says:

    I am married (both of us work), with 2 small children. Previously, I was claiming no exemptions on my w-4, and received a very large tax return at the end of the year. I would like to have less withheld each paycheck, yet still get a tax return at the end of the year. How many allowances should I claim?

    • admin says:

      Hi Josh,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  28. Raquel says:

    Hello, My name is Raquel

    Iam starting a new job so I need to do my W-4 . My husband is military and claims me and both our children, do I just right Zero on line #5? and that is all I fill out for my W-4

    Thank You
    Raquel

    • admin says:

      Hi Raquel,

      If your husband is going to continue claiming you and your children, then I suggest claiming zero allowances.

      Keep in mind, the general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

  29. Carolina says:

    Hello,

    I got married last week. I work full time. My husband does not. I want the same amount to be withheld as I did before I was married. Should I file my W-4 as Married, withhold at single rate with 0 allowances? My status before said Single with 0 allowances.

    • admin says:

      Hi Carolina,

      Congratulations!

      Yes, you are correct. You can still get the single withholding rate if you are married. The W-4 has a checkbox labeled “Married, but withhold at higher Single rate.” By making this selection you get the single withholding rate even though you are married. This box is located on the bottom half of the first page of the W4 (option #3).

  30. TASH says:

    I WILL BE STARTING A NEW JOB. MY HUSBAND AND I JUST HAD OUR FIRST BABY. WE BOTH FILE SEPARATELY. MY NAME IS HYPHENATED SO I FILE AS SINGLE. HOW MANY ALLOWANCES SHOULD I PUT ON MY W-4 FOR MY NEW JOB?

    • admin says:

      Hi Tash,

      Congratulations on the new addition!

      The amount of allowances you claim would depend on who is claiming your child. Typically, it is more beneficial for the spouse with the higher income to claim more allowances.

      I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  31. Susan says:

    Single, no dependents. Retired October 2013.
    Starting a part time job, 6 -10 hr/wk at $15 an hour
    Have not touched my retirement portfolio yet, just getting SS (1676/mo)
    Should I claim 0 or 1 exemption on my W-4?
    Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Hi Susan,

      Depending on your preference, claiming zero or one allowance will both will have you owing nearly nothing at the end of the tax year; possibly even receiving a refund.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

  32. Sarah Selden says:

    I am married and both my husband and I work full-time jobs. We have three children, ages 18, 17, and 12. I recently had to fill out a W-4 form at my new place of employment. I am concerned that I selected too many “allowances.” I selected “9″ taking into account the “child tax credit” for our two children under the age of 18. Should I go back and change my allowances to “5″….I would rather get a refund for taxes as we normally due, but am concerned I am not having enough taken out of my check. Thanks so much for your advice.

    • admin says:

      Hi Sarah,

      By following the instructions on the W4, you have calculated the maximum amount of allowances that you are able to claim based on your circumstances. You are always able to claim less than that amount.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  33. K says:

    Hello,
    I just got a new job. I am married with 4 kids. Spouse unemployed. How many should I claim fro federal and state?
    Thanks.

    • admin says:

      Hi K,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. If you claim a large number, you’ll have less taken out. The absolute ideal scenario is to have your tax liability (or refund) at the end of the year be as close to zero as possible.

      I also suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  34. Christina says:

    Hello,

    I’m single but I’m supporting my family and will be claiming my mom as a dependent. How many allowances should I claim? I don’t want to be owing taxes later though.
    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi Christina,

      The amount of allowances you claim will depend on how many members of your family are your dependents. I suggest taking a look at the IRS Withholding Calculator. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you the most accurate amount of allowances to claim in order to reach that break-even point at the end of the tax year.

  35. Christina says:

    Hi,

    I’m single and I’m planning on adding my mom (unemployed) as my dependent. I’m guessing I would qualify as the head of household as well. How many allowances should I claim and make sure I don’t owe any later on? Thanks!

Leave a Reply