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What Are Allowances on a W-4?

W-4 form determines how much tax is withheld from your pay & the size of your tax refund. Lowering the # of allowances on a W-4 means a larger tax refund.

The W-4 form determines how much tax is withheld from your wages based on how many allowances you claim

Form W-4 [Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate] determines how much federal, state, local, Social Security, and Medicare tax is withheld from your paychecks. When beginning a new job, you must fill out this form and give it to your employer, even if you are exempt from withholding.

On the W-4 you can claim a certain number of allowances depending on your life situation. It’s these allowances that determine your withholding (and size of refund or tax due when filing your taxes).

If you claim 0 allowances, the maximum amount of taxes will be withheld. For every additional allowance you claim, a little less tax will be withheld from your paycheck.

The Number You Should Claim

The details to your specific situation (such as your filing status, number of children, etc) will determine how you should fill out your W-4.

If your parents claim you: 

If you’re being claimed as a dependent on someone’s tax return, you’ll want to claim 0 allowances. This is because your parents are claiming you as an exemption, rather than you claiming yourself.

If You’re Single: 

  • & Working One Job: If you definitely want a refund, claim 0. However, you will have more tax withheld from each paycheck, meaning smaller paychecks. Choosing to claim 1 allowance will guarantee you a refund at the end of the tax year, without having the maximum tax withheld from your pay. Claiming two allowances will most likely get you the closest to your tax obligations, but when everything is said and done you may end up owing the IRS a modest sum.
  • & Working Two Jobs: If you work two jobs and are filing as single, ideally you would claim one allowance at each job. If you already claimed 0 at one job,  claim 2 allowances at the other job. If you want a larger refund when tax season rolls around, claim one allowance at one job and zero at the other.

If You’re Married:

  • Without Kids: You should claim 2 allowances if your spouse does not work. If your spouse does work, each of you should claim 1 allowance.
  • With Kids: If you are married with a kid, you and your spouse combined should generally claim 3 allowances. For each additional child, add an allowance. So, if you’re married with two kids, as a couple, you would claim a total of 4 allowances, meaning each of you would ideally claim 2 allowances on your W-4s.

If You’re Head of Household

  • You can claim additional allowances if your filing status is head of household. In other words, if you’re single with two kids and eligible for head of household filing status, you would claim four allowances.

If You’re Still Confused

Allowances can be difficult to determine. Everyone should complete the Personal Allowances Worksheet on the first page of the W-4. Those who plan to itemize deductions should complete the Deductions and Adjustments Worksheet on page 2 and those with two jobs or a spouse who works should complete the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet on page 2 also.

If you still need help, the IRS Withholding Calculator tool will help you determine your allowances.

When you file your return, make sure your withholding more or less lines up with your tax obligations. If you have a big tax bill after filing, you’ll want to lower your number of allowances on your W-4.

You Can Adjust Your W-4 Allowances

Remember to adjust your W-4 if there are major changes in your life. If you get married or divorced, or gain or lose a dependent, you will need to change the number of allowances you claim. Likewise, if you become or cease to be someone else’s dependent you will likely have to change your withholding.

Withholding is something everyone needs to pay attention to, whether you’re looking ahead to the upcoming tax season or filing back tax returns online.

If you’re not happy with your refund amount after filing your taxes, think about changing the number of allowances on your W-4.

Photo via Chris Potter on Flickr.

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57 Responses to “What Are Allowances on a W-4?”

  1. Chris says:

    You said “generally” regarding married with one child claiming 3 and married with two children claiming 4. Can you give me some examples that would be exceptions to those rules? I’m married with one child and one on the way in February. Our joint incomes will be around $200k. Thanks!!!

  2. rachel norkett says:

    married but separated got 3 to claim on my taxes this year. 2700 a month. what can I expect to get back on my taxes?

    • admin says:

      Hi Rachel,

      Your refund amount depends on a number of different variables. I suggest creating an account and entering your information. Before having to pay anything, you will be able to see the estimated refund amount that you can expect to receive.

  3. Michael says:

    Hello, I am not married but I pay 100% of the rent and live with my fiance and my newborn son. What allowances should I claim if any? Am I eligible to file as head of household?

    • admin says:

      Hi Michael,

      I suggest claiming one or two on your W-4 form.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

      Generally, you can claim head of household only if you are unmarried and pay more than 50% of the costs of keeping up a home for yourself and your dependents or other qualifying individuals.

  4. James says:

    Let’s say I changed my allowances to a big number jus to get less tax taken out of my check. Is that gonna end up biting me in the ass? I my mom still carried me on her takes.

    • admin says:

      Hi James,

      Updating your W-4 to claim a large number could cause you to owe the IRS 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. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  5. Jane says:

    I got married this summer. I work 2 part time jobs and my husband works 1 full time job. How many allowances should we put? I currently have 2 myself and my husband has 1. Should we change anything? Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi Jane,

      I suggest you each claim one on your W-4s. Since you are employed at two jobs, you can claim zero on one of your W-4s and one on the other.

  6. Kay says:

    If I have Myself, a child, daycare expenses, and the child tax credit, do I have to claim all of these? I don’t want to have to pay at tax time, and is getting to big of a tax refund bad?

    • admin says:

      Hi Kay,

      You definitely can claim less on your W-4.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  7. Deepak says:

    Hi

    I need some help in updating my allowances. I am married and I am the only person working in my house. I don’t have any kids. So what should I be putting in allowances so that I just pay what I owe as federal taxes?

    I tried filling up the allowances calculator. It was showing up as 25 allowances. Not sure if I missed something there. I am quite confused.

    Thanks.

    • admin says:

      Hi Deepak,

      I suggest claiming one or two on your W-4 form.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  8. Kristin says:

    Hello,

    I am single with 2 children. I live with my fiance, who claims the children on his W-2. I have started a new job and was wondering if I can I claim 3 on my W-4?

    Thank you!

    • admin says:

      Kristin,

      The amount that you claim on your W-4 is just to control the amount that is withheld from each of your paychecks throughout the year. If you look at a W-4, you will notice that there is a worksheet on the top of your form. This is to give you an estimate in how many allowances you should claim to get as close as possible to not owing the IRS or receiving an enormous refund. This top portion does not need to be given to your employer or even filled out for that matter.

      Keep in mind that you can generally choose the amount of allowances you claim on your W-4 but the more you claim, the less is withheld from your paychecks and the higher your chance of owing at the end of the year.

  9. shalonda says:

    Hi, I just got a divorce, and I have a daughter in college and a son in high school what number of allowance do I claim

    • admin says:

      Hi Shalonda,

      I suggest claiming no more than three allowances to avoid owing the IRS.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

      Since you have not provided your income or if you will be filing as head of household, 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.

  10. Michael says:

    Here is my question:

    I am married and have two little kids at home. My wife does not work, and I work only one job. When I answer the questions verbatim on the W-4 form, I wind up with “7″ allowances. Is this correct?

    Line A: 1 (for me)
    Line B: 1 (for me)
    Line C: 1 (for my spouse)
    Line D: 2 (for my kids)
    Line G: 2 (for my kids again)
    ———-
    Total: 7

    Is that right? This confuses me greatly. I would rather get a small refund at the end of the year instead of owing money, but I want to try to come as close to the zero mark as possible still.

    • admin says:

      Hi Michael,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  11. Teshawna says:

    Hi!

    I am single, my parents claimed me on taxes for 2013, I have one job, and I do NOT having any children. I landed a new position (with higher pay) January 2014 and decided to complete the W4 form. On the form, I entered $15 for the “Additional Amount Withheld” and 0 for the allowances. My question is if $15 being withheld every time I am paid?

    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi Teshawna,

      By entering $15.00, that amount will be withheld from each paycheck. Keep in mind that you can update your W-4 at any time with your pay roll department and it will go into effect the pay period immediately following.

  12. CMM says:

    Hello.

    Divorced in November of 2014. Validating my W-4 with my Company. I am head of my household and have (2) children.

    Each tax year I get to claim 1 child as my dependent. Question is: What should be my total # of allowances i am claiming? 3 or 4? or should it just be 0?

    Also, should i include additional amount from paycheck? if so, what is the average for $70k/annually?

    • admin says:

      Hi CMM,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  13. Harrison says:

    I recently picked up a job and the guy who helped me had me file 2 was that the right thing. Im single one job

    • admin says:

      Hi Harrison,

      I would suggest updating it to one. Claiming two just means that less is withheld from each paycheck and your refund will be less at the end of the year (or you may owe the IRS).

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  14. Paul says:

    Good morning,

    I’m currently married with two kids and I’m the only one working in my household. How many allowances should I claim?

    • admin says:

      Hi Paul,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4, you will calculate the maximum amount that you can claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount taken out. 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.

  15. ND says:

    HI
    I curently have a part time job claiming 1 and a full time job claiming 2. I am married and no kids yet. Little bit confused, am i doing it right with the withholding numbers ? Please advise. Thanks.

    ND.

    • admin says:

      Hi ND,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck each pay period. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4 Form, you will calculate the maximum amount that you should claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount withheld. If you claim a larger amount, you’ll have less withheld. 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.

  16. O.F says:

    Hi, I am really confused. I am college student with a little side job and my mom still claims me on her tax. However I have a son and I want to claim him on my form. what number should I put as my allowances? and he would count as my dependent right?

    • admin says:

      Hi O.F.,

      Unfortunately, since your mom is claiming you on her taxes, you are not able to claim your child on your own taxes. This would not coincide with the IRS’ guidelines for claiming a dependent. However, you do have several options.

      1. You can have your mom not claim you on her taxes and you file your own. This will then allow you to claim your son as a dependent.
      2. With your permission, your mom can claim you AND your son on her taxes.

  17. M.M.G says:

    Hi,

    My wife and I both have a full time job and a part-time job, I’m claiming 2 on my full time and 0 in my part time, my wife is claiming 1 on her part time and 1 on her full time. Is this the right way to do it? we afraid that we will have to pay large amount of money when doing our taxes, please help. Thank you.

    • admin says:

      I would suggest that you each claim one at your full-time and zero at your part-time, assuming that it is only you two in the family with no dependents.

  18. Diana says:

    Hey I really need your help, me and my husband got married in august, I am not a citizen yet, I am in the process of getting my green card through marriage,

    so I don’t work and my husband has 1 job

    but my husband owe taxes, around 600 dollars since 2012…. and he doesn’t know how to pay it off and wanted to get the amount that he needs to pay taken out of his taxes this year

    so in the W4 how many allowances ? We updated for 2… should we claim less? thank you so much

    • admin says:

      Hi Diana,

      I would suggest that he claims zero then. This will allow for the maximum amount to be withheld from each of his paychecks. With this option, he will have the highest refund (or smallest amount owed) possible.

  19. Jassidy says:

    I’m a single parent , 1 job, with 2 kids I’ll be claiming, what should I claim?

    • admin says:

      Hi Jassidy,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck each pay period. By following the directions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4 Form, you will calculate the maximum amount that you should claim. However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount withheld. If you claim a larger amount, you’ll have less withheld. 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.

      In order to do this, 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.

  20. Joseph says:

    I didn’t know what I was doing when filled out the w4, I ended up choosing 2 allowances when I’m a single dependent with no kids. Should I have chosen 0? I’m guessing i’m going to owe the irs come tax time? I already sent the w4, is there a way I can change the allowance?

    • admin says:

      Hi Joseph,

      You can update your W-4 at any point and it should go into effect immediately. Keep in mind that updating the W-4 will not affect your withheld amount prior to the change. That being said, I would suggest claiming one or zero when filing as single with one source of income and no dependents.

  21. CMC says:

    Hello,

    My husband and I both work full-time and have no children. I just changed my W-4 form to allow 1 allowance today. Will this be okay? Should my husband do the same? I did this in 2013 but changed it back to 0 because I did not want to owe the IRS, but I could use the extra cash monthly since we have a house payment as of last summer.

    Thank you!

  22. DeeJay says:

    what happens if you get married and for some reason your w-4 didn’t get changed to “married” in the Taxable marital status spot…. I just noticed it. Will I get in trouble? They haven’t said anything yet and its been a few years. Does it effect the amount of tax that is being withheld? We claim 0.

    • admin says:

      Hi DeeJay,

      As long as you reported this change on your actual taxes, you won’t be in any sort of trouble with the IRS. The W-4 form is only to serve as an estimate of how much should be withheld from your income throughout the year. However, I do highly suggest updating this with your employer as soon as possible so that the correct amount of taxes are being withheld from your paychecks.

  23. PR says:

    Hi,

    I have 1 full-time job and 1 part-time job. My wife is currently working part-time. I have 2 allowances for full-time, 0 for part-time and my wife has 2 for her part-time job. Is this “correct”? Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi PR,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck each pay period. By following the instructions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4 Form, you will calculate the maximum amount that you should claim (Keep in mind that this worksheet will not be given to your employer or the IRS). However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount withheld. If you claim a larger amount, you’ll have less withheld. 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.

  24. Kerby says:

    Hi so I tryna figure out what to claim ony W4 form I have two kids one of them I’m
    Paying child support and work live with my girlfriend we file separate but we alternate years we claiming our son on taxes but I would like to know what should I claim on my W4 form as dependent allowances not sure if choosing 0, 1 or 2 same time I don’t want to owe back nothing

    • admin says:

      Hi Kerby,

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck each pay period. By following the instructions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4 Form, you will calculate the maximum amount that you should claim (Keep in mind that this worksheet will not be given to your employer or the IRS). However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount withheld. If you claim a larger amount, you’ll have less withheld. 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.

  25. Crissy says:

    On my W-4, I have claimed three allowances but my pay check reveals “999″ allowances. Therefore, no money has been withheld. Why does my pay check show “999??”

    • admin says:

      Hi Crissy,

      I strongly suggest checking with your pay roll department as soon as possible as there seems to be a mistake on their part. As long as this is updated in a timely fashion, there will not be much of a difference come tax time.

  26. Cathy says:

    I am single and working. I claimed a 1 on my allowance. I did not have any money deducted monthly. Do we need to do that?

    • admin says:

      Hi Cathy,

      It is possible that your income is not high enough to deduct taxes. However, I do suggest still checking your your pay roll department to make sure that a mistake was not made.

  27. Cynthia says:

    Hello,

    I just got married and need to update my w4 for my employer. I earn almost double what my husband earns bc my job is a full time job and his is a part time job. Not sure how many allowances we should put. Since he earn a lot less right now he put zero allowances. Should he leave it at zero and me put 2 allowances? or should we each put 1?

    • admin says:

      Hi Cynthia,

      I would suggest that you keep it as is with you claiming two and your husband claiming zero.

      The general rule is that the more allowances you claim, the less withholding you’ll have taken out of your paycheck each pay period. By following the instructions on the Personal Allowances Worksheet of your W-4 Form, you will calculate the maximum amount that you should claim (Keep in mind that this worksheet will not be given to your employer or the IRS). However, you can always claim less than that to ensure that enough will be withheld from each paycheck. If you claim zero, you’ll have the maximum amount withheld. If you claim a larger amount, you’ll have less withheld. 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.

  28. Ashlie says:

    Hi, I am single with two kids ages 5 and 2. I want to know how many allowances I should claim on my W-4. I want a decent paycheck but will also prefer a bigger refund, what should I do?

    • admin says:

      Hi Ashlie,
      Ages 5 and 2…You must be a busy mom! If you’re claiming both children on your tax return and head of household filing status, then claiming 4 allowances on your W-4 should give you the perfect balance between the size of your refund and your tax withheld. If you’re claiming both children on your tax return but do not qualify for head of household filing status, then you should claim 3 allowances on your W-4.

  29. Shawn says:

    Hi.. I am single with two foster children who has been in my home for over six months… This year I was able to claim them.. However I claimed two on my allowances. How should this have been handled. I’m confused…

    • admin says:

      Hi Shawn,
      Filling out a W-4 can be confusing. If you are claiming the two children on your tax return, then 2 allowances on your W-4 should mean you receive a tax refund when filing your taxes. If you would like less tax withheld from your paychecks, you can change this number to 3 (however, you should expect to receive a smaller refund). If you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

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