HomeTaxesWhat is a W-4? Updating My W-4

What is a W-4? Updating My W-4

Anyone that has ever received a paycheck has noticed that the government takes a (massive) piece.  Your HR/Employer knows how much to withhold from each paycheck based partly on your W-4.  According to the IRS one would,

Complete Form W-4 so that your employer can withhold the correct federal income tax from your pay. Consider completing a new Form W-4 each year and when personal or financial situation changes.

Specifically, the W-4 asks

an employee calculates the number of Form W-4 allowances he or she will claim, based on his or her expected tax filing situation for the year. For each Form W-4 allowance taken, the amount of money withheld as Federal income tax is reduced. This, in turn, reduces any tax refund the employee may be eligible for (i.e., if the funds were never withheld in the first place), or conversely raises one’s liability for taxes due. No interest is paid on over-withholding. Penalties are imposed for under-withholding beyond a certain threshold.

So in addition to creating my son’s New York 529, I knew I had to make some moves when it came to this important document.  I called up my Human Resource Director who then had me call our PEO, however, it only took 20 minutes from start to finish.


I am probably in the minority when it comes to personal finance bloggers but I actually don’t mind providing the government with a small interest free loan.  Why? Because there is little worse feeling than getting a bill from the Internal Revenue Service that you weren’t expecting.   So to avoid that sinking stomach feeling I am happy to allow the government to waste my money for a year or so until it comes back when I get a refund.

The important part of the preceding paragraph is small.  So to make sure my little tax deduction is account for in all of 2011 in the eyes of the IRS, I had to add a 1 (as in 1 dependent) on line “D” of my W-4.

When is the last time you updated your W4?



  1. I quit fooling with it after my tax lawyer told me you can get in trouble with the IRS by taking too many allowances.

    Every year I would always get money back, so when the Great Desert University created a large de facto pay cut with an endless series of furloughs, I (like many of my colleagues) added allowances to try to minimize the damage. I didn’t end up owing any extra taxes, but was advised not to do that.

    • Not that I do anything wrong I find it best to stay off the IRS’ radar. The few bucks you save is just not worth the eventual headache lol

      I didn’t play with any of the allowances just the exemption amount.

  2. Very useful post Evan and thanks for the reminder!

    I need to take a closer look at my W-2 – I agree I wouldn’t want a letter from the IRS either!

  3. I hate getting a surprise at tax time! I try to have a small refund. I generally review our withholding twice a year, around June and October. October is key to see if I want to adjust my withholding.

  4. Great post, Evan. Nice to hear your perspective on completing this form. I used to be very anti-overpaying. But I’ve come to realize that most people are smart enough to know what’s best for them. At the end of the day, it’s just a year and there are definitely better ways to spend your financial management energy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Recent Comments