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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. You must fill out this form and give it to your employer when beginning a new job, 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. 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

There is a rough correlation between the number of allowances you can claim on your W-4 and the number of personal exemptions you can claim on your tax return.  However, there is more that goes into play.

If your parents claim you: 

For example, if you are a college kid who has a job but is still claimed as a dependent on your parents’ return, then you would take 0 allowances because your personal exemption goes to your parents.

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 generally claim 2 allowances.
  • 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 you will file as 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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31 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.

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