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I just started a new job after being in college. Since I have many deductions from being a student and only a partial year of income, I set my allowances accordingly.

Now that we are at the end of the year, I need to update my W-4 to start getting the proper withholding for receiving a full year of pay next year. I started to fill out a new W-4 when I got to the point of saying my marital status. I am not married now, but will be in a few months.

My question is, should I go ahead and say I am married now, even though I am not? Our salaries are such that we wont change tax brackets after getting married, but I am not sure what other effects being married will have on our taxes. What all should I be looking at?

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    Lying on a tax form leaves you open to consequences much more serious than getting a non-zero refund. – DJClayworth Dec 30 '11 at 19:03
  • @DJClayworth looks like it is a 2 to 2 split on what to do. I would really like it if someone could provide some sources one way or the other. – Kellenjb Dec 30 '11 at 19:15
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    @DJClayworth are you suggesting that if one knows they'll be married by the end of 2012, that by filing a W4 reflecting a request for withholding based on 'married' early in the year, they are somehow committing fraud? Can you cite one case of someone being charged with fraud in this situation? To the OP, run the numbers and look at how withholding will change on circular E that I linked. Good chance this point is moot. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Dec 31 '11 at 2:36
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    This is almost certainly the most overwrought response to a simple question ever. Some time after your get married, update your W-4 form per the instructions. I think I last updated my W-4 in 1999, when I was single and without dependents. The black helicopters haven't come for me yet. – duffbeer703 Jan 1 '12 at 19:41
  • @JTP-ApologisetoMonica the problem, I think, is "counting your eggs before they hatch". Sure, it's only a few months, but circumstances can change. – RonJohn Feb 11 at 21:25
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I personally believe that I spend my money better than the US Government does, so I do my best to keep my refund as close to 0 as I can even if that means sometimes I need to send in a check on April 15. If that is your goal then choosing married at the start of the year will reduce your withholding through out the year.

If you prefer to have a larger refund then you can leave your withholding at single until you are married. This way if something happens and you are forced (or choose) to postpone your wedding you will not have a nasty shock of owing or a very small return.

If you spouse will have a larger income than you, you may want to leave your withholding at single to avoid having to pay in at the end of the year.

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Yes, if you are getting married in 2012, even next December, for tax purposes, you are married for the year. Run your W4s as married.

See Fairmark. You'll notice that at the lower end, the tax on a couples' income is the same as two singles making half each. There's still a marriage penalty, but only at much higher incomes. So, while I maintain my answer, the new calculation may produce a withholding pretty similar to what you'd have as a single filer.

To see the exact impact of single/married and withholding allowances, you want Circular E. After you tinker with the W4 and see what it tells you, this will show you the exact amount you can expect withheld.

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  • I knew that for taxes you are considered married for the whole year, even if it is a partial year. I just wasn't sure what effect that would have on filling out the W-4 and how ultimately that would effect my taxes. – Kellenjb Dec 29 '11 at 18:27
  • To make the withholding for both of you accurate, both of you should submit the W4 as soon as possible so 2012 withholding is correct. If you wait too long, you may get a bigger refund or owe more than you should otherwise. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Dec 29 '11 at 21:58
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As pointed out by ulty4life, the IRS withholding calculator advises people to choose their withholding to more closely match their anticipated taxes.

In my particular case I will be married in a couple of months and because my fiance is not employed I have already over payed in taxes for the year. Based on the good-faith honest information I entered, the IRS website recommends the following for me: "to more closely match your anticipated tax, adjust your withholding on a new Form W-4 as follows: For the only job you entered (which has a projected salary of $24,400): 5 allowances. Check the “Married” box on your Form W-4"

It then goes on to detail the amount of taxes I would have paid and an estimate of my return assuming that I submit this new W-4 before my next paycheck.

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The IRS instructions for form W4 say specifically "Step 1(c). Check your anticipated filing status. This will determine the standard deduction and tax rates used to compute your withholding." They are stating that you are answering for under penalty of perjury what you believe to be true. So if you are getting married this year you would be anticipating filing as a married person.

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  • They say that for 2020 and 2021, but earlier years did not, and this Q was asked in 2011. – dave_thompson_085 Feb 12 at 9:03
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Well, logically you should fill up the position as on the date of the filling. You are planning to marry, tax can not be done on the basis of planning and if you are not married how can you sign as married. Suppose you signed as married and God forbid for any reasons it is deferred to 2013, then?

Being married and planning to get married is something very different.

I am sure there must be having option to redo your W4 in future and you should revise your W4 after you get married. Sign as married when planning to get married is factually wrong and should not be done.

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  • There are 2 people who seem to disagree with you. Do you have any source to back you up? – Kellenjb Dec 30 '11 at 2:23
  • Well, as I pointed out, the fact that one can get married on Dec 31 and is considered married for the year means there may be no time to adjust the W4 prior to year end. On the other hand, the so-called marriage penalty has been pretty much removed. i.e. the tax for two $40k singles should be close to the $80k couple post marriage. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Dec 30 '11 at 3:23
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    Another important point is that the discussion is about a W-4, not a tax return. The information is used to figure out the proper amount of withholding, not the amount of tax you owe. So there is nothing wrong with putting "incorrect" information on it, if the result is that you have the "correct" amount withheld from your check. Note that "correct" may be that you owe $0 in April, that you have the least amount withheld that you are allowed without penalty, or that you get the largest refund. – KeithB Dec 30 '11 at 19:48
  • On a lighter note, when logic leads you to correct tax planning, it should be taken as coincidence and nothing more. You come to a conclusion, and claim that it's logic, yet, under the right circumstances, there can be a large tax bill along with penalties. There's no free pass for getting it wrong with the IRS based on one's use of logic. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Dec 31 '11 at 0:59

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