In 2020, the W-4 form changed to help individuals withhold federal income tax more accurately from their paychecks. Learn everything you need to know so you can update your W-4 with confidence.
New W-4 form
Whether you're filling out paperwork for a new job or got an email notification from HR, you might have noticed that the W-4 form changed from what you might have been used to. Your W-4 is what determines your federal income tax withholding, and making sure it's accurate is the first step in determining whether you get a tax refund or will owe taxes when you prepare your tax return.
The IRS made significant changes to the W-4 form in 2020 and the updated form should provide you the means to more accurately withhold federal income tax. We'll go over the changes and what you should know.
Why the IRS made W-4 form changes
Depending on your circumstance, you might have under-withheld and owed money, or received a larger refund than usual when you filed your taxes. Ideally, Form W-4 should make it so you neither owe taxes nor get a refund when you file your tax return — which is what led to it being reworked.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) became law in late 2017 and significantly changed how the federal income tax system works. The TCJA made several changes, including
- removing personal exemptions
- increasing the standard deduction
- making the child tax credit available to more people
However, the new tax changes don't always work well with the previous version of Form W-4.
- The older version relied on calculating a number of allowances that were then used, along with any additional withholding amount desired, to figure out how much federal income tax to withhold from your paycheck.
- The allowance system was tied to the use of exemptions and deductions on your tax return.
When these exemptions deductions were removed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Form W-4 no longer estimated the correct amount that needed to be withheld from paychecks as well as it used to.
The first step the IRS implemented was to change the withholding tables. Employers use these tables along with the information on your Form W-4 to calculate federal income tax withholding.
How the W-4 form changed
The Form W-4 is now a full page instead of a half page, and yet it's still easier to understand. For starters, a lot of the basics have stayed the same.
- You still have to provide your name, address, filing status and Social Security number.
- As with the prior version of the form, the new W-4 allows you to claim exempt status if you meet certain requirements.
In 2019 and years prior, Form W-4 only required you to input:
- The number of allowances you were claiming.
- Any additional amount you wanted to be withheld from your paycheck.
- To calculate the number of allowances, you could use separate worksheets that many found complicated.
The new Form W-4 is a bit easier to understand because each section shows why adjustments are being made. There are now three main sections used to help determine your withholding. You only complete each section if it applies to your situation.
Personal Information (Step 1)
To begin with, you’ll need to add your personal information to the appropriate boxes. This includes your:
- first and last name,
- social security number,
- home address, and
- filing status (choosing from Single or Married filing separately, Married filing jointly, or Head of household).
Multiple jobs or spouse works (Step 2)
This section is for if you work multiple jobs at the same time or are married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are employed. To be accurate, both spouses should fill out the new Form W-4 for each job.
The form lists three ways you can complete this section.
- The most accurate option is using an online estimator like TurboTax’s W-4 withholding calculator.
- You can also use a worksheet to calculate this information.
- Or, you can check the box for step 2(c) for both jobs if there are only two jobs total and the earnings are fairly similar.
Claim dependents (Step 3)
If you only work one job or you're filling out a Form W-4 for the highest paying job and you have dependents, you claim them here. This section accounts for the tax impact of the child tax credit and the other dependents credits.
Alternatively, if you’re working on the W-4 for the lower-paying of your multiple jobs, you should skip this section.
Other adjustments (Step 4)
You can use other adjustments to make your withholding more accurate. In particular, this section offers three options.
First, you can add extra income from outside of your job, such as dividends or interest, that usually don't have withholding taken out of them.
- By including this, additional federal tax withholding gets taken out of your paycheck.
- This may help you avoid owing taxes based on these types of other income when you file your tax return.
Next, you can account for other deductions.
- Since most take the standard deduction, that's what Form W-4 assumes unless you add extra deductions here.
- If you itemize or take other deductions, you may want to add them here.
Finally, you can have more federal income tax withheld from each paycheck by adding extra withholding. You can use this to
- give yourself a bigger refund at tax time, or
- account for other tax situations Form W-4 doesn't specifically ask about.
As with Step 3, if you’re filling out this W-4 for the lower-paying of your multiple jobs, you should skip this section.
Should you fill out a new Form W-4?
Those starting a new job will have to fill out a new Form W-4. You don't have to start a new job to fill out a Form W-4, though.
If you want your federal income tax withholding to be more accurate, you should fill out a new Form W-4. This will likely result in a change in your federal income tax withholding, which impacts the amount of your usual tax refund or the amount you usually owe. Ask your payroll or human resources department how to submit a new Form W-4.
- Pay attention to your paycheck after your new Form W-4 takes effect to see if more or less federal income tax is being withheld.
- If less is withheld, your refund may be smaller, or you may owe more if nothing else changes.
- If more is withheld, your refund may be larger, or you may owe less if everything else stays the same.
If you don't feel the results are correct for your situation, make adjustments in the other adjustments section, submit a new Form W-4, and check the results on your paycheck after the adjustment takes effect.
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