Differences in Claiming Single or Married on a W-4

by Mike Keenan ; Updated June 28, 2018
Differences in Claiming Single or Married on a W-4

When you receive your paycheck, a big chunk is missing from the amount you actually earned because of what your employer takes out for income tax withholding. The employer uses information on your Form W-4 to calculate the withholding amount, including your filing status. For your filing status, you can select various options including married filing jointly, married filing separately, single or head of household.

Effects on Tax Withholding

When you complete your Form W-4, you have to select whether you want your income taxes withheld using the single withholding tables or the married withholding tables. Like the income tax tables, the withholding tables for single people have higher rates than for married people. The income tax withholding tables are designed to reflect the amount of income taxes due on the payment. Since your taxes depend on filing status, so does your income tax withholding.

Changing Your Withholding Status

If your filing status changes, update your tax withholding by filing a new W-4 form with your employer. The employer must use the new information to calculate your withholding within 30 days of your submission. For example, if you get married, file a new W-4 to withhold at the married rate. If you get divorced, file a new W-4 form to withhold at the single rate. Making sure your W-4 is up-to-date helps ensure that your tax withholding will be accurate.

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Effects of Over-withholding

If you have your income taxes withheld at the single rate when you file your taxes as married, your employer will withhold more than you will owe in taxes. When you file your income tax return, the Internal Revenue Service refunds the extra withholding. You do not receive any interest or other compensation from the government for holding your money. Therefore, when you have too much withheld, in effect you give the IRS an interest-free loan. However, some people prefer to have too much withheld because they enjoy getting a large income tax refund.

Effects of Under-withholding

If you claim to be married when in fact you are single, you will have too little withheld from your income taxes. The government imposes criminal penalties of up to $1,000 and a year in jail for intentionally falsifying a Form W-4. In addition to civil penalties, the IRS also charges interest on the amount under-withheld when you file your income tax return at a rate of 3 percent above the current federal short-term borrowing rate.

About the Author

Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."

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