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I want to have the maximum-possible US Federal Income Tax withholding made from my paycheck

By "maximum", I mean I want ALL of the remainder (after all other deductions) of my paycheck withheld, so that I have $0 net pay (after all deductions, including the Federal Income Tax deduction that I want to max out).

How do I instruct this on my 2020 W4?

(see accepted Answer for why this strikeout below, didn't actually result in $0 net pay prior to 2020)

This appears to be how to do it prior to 2020:

If you want to have the maximum amount of taxes taken out of your paycheck, then you need to claim zero allowances on line 5 of your W-4.

But in 2020, that won't work anymore since there is no more line 5 on 2020 W4 (for allowances):

3.What happened to withholding allowances?

Allowances are no longer used for the redesigned Form W-4. This change is meant to increase transparency, simplicity, and accuracy of the form. In the past, the value of a withholding allowance was tied to the amount of the personal exemption. Due to changes in law, currently you cannot claim personal exemptions or dependency exemptions.

So how can I do it with 2020 W4?

My best guess is to designate/enter an amount on 2020 W4 line 4(c) [for "Extra withholding"] that I know will be greater than [or equal to] my net pay per paycheck (the net pay I would get by default if I don't submit a W4) - would that indeed be how to do it? Or please let me know if there is a correct/different way (or if it somehow depends on my given employer).


Reason for wanting $0 net pay [at year-end]:

To benefit from the opportunity cost of deferring more income tax payment to the end of the year.

Increase withholding at year end: Even though additional tax is withheld at year end, the tax is deemed to be spread evenly throughout the tax year with an equal amount paid on each installment due date. This creates an opportunity for taxpayers who either find themselves underpaid or wish to defer the payment of tax to avoid the underpayment penalty by increasing withholding at year end (for example, 100% withholding on a year-end bonus)

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  • You can’t really achieve your goal. You can certainly increase your withholding at year end. But you also seem to want to reduce your withholding in the earlier part of the year, which you can’t do without submitting a fraudulent W-4. – prl Nov 13 '20 at 9:45
  • @prl I think you are assuming my earlier-in-year income was on a W2? That income was from self-employment, which was not on a W2 (also, my source of that income did not submit a 1099-MISC for me) - therefore no W4 existed (not even a default), as you allude to. I would therefore have otherwise had to make quarterly estimated income tax payments on that, but I instead chose to defer that tax payment to the end of the year, when I have (from a new/different job) W2 income (for which the W4 in question here regards); the goal was to leverage what I described at the very end of my Question here. – cellepo Nov 13 '20 at 18:17
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I mean I want ALL of the remainder (after all other deductions) of my paycheck withheld, so that I have $0 net pay (after all deductions, including the Federal Income Tax deduction that I want to max out).

How do I instruct this on my 2020 W4?

This appears to be how to do it prior to 2020:

claim zero allowances on line 5 of your W-4.

You have a misunderstanding about the old W-4 forms :

  • Claiming zero allowances on the old form would have the "maximum" amount withheld but it wouldn't get get you net pay to zero. Back when there were personal exemptions and lets say they were worth $4K, then every allowance would decrease your taxable amount by $4K a year or $153.85 per two-week paycheck. This was used to lower your withholding if you you had dependents, mortgage interest and the like. That $153.85 decrease would translate into less tax withheld, but the exact amount depended on your where your last dollars fell in the tax table.

    Claiming zero just meant that you would have approximately the right amount withheld if you worked all year, had steady income, and took the standard deduction with no kids.

  • to have more withheld you put a $ amount in line 6:

  1. Additional amount, if any, you want withheld from each paycheck.

You would have had to experiment with how to put a number here to get your net pay to zero. I say experiment because I have no idea how the system would react if you said hold and extra $800, and there was only $777 of net pay before this line. It would be tough to get exactly right if your pay wasn't steady.

In the old forms this was done when you had multiple jobs to make sure that you had enough withheld.

That means that your guess regarding the new forms:

My best guess is to designate/enter an amount on 2020 W4 line 4(c) [for "Extra withholding"] that I know will be greater than [or equal to] my net pay per paycheck (the net pay I would get by default if I don't submit a W4) - would that indeed be how to do it?

That would appear to be correct.

This questions leads to wanting to know why you want a paycheck with zero net pay. If you are trying to have a ton withheld because you know you will will be writing a big check to the IRS, then you don't need to get the amount you owe down to zero. You only have to get within one of the safe harbors, or you can file a quarterly estimate. Depending on how much you need to have withheld, and the small number of paychecks left in the year, the safe harbor might be hard to reach and the quarterly estimate may be a better alternative.

also:

(the net pay I would get by default if I don't submit a W4).

If you don't submit a W-4 they will withhold as a single, which will have more withheld than if you check married. The old form actually had an option for this you could ask to be considered "Married, but withhold at higher Single rate." that option appears to be gone on the newer forms.

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  • Thanks! Added the answer to your question about why I want $0 net pay, to my Question. – cellepo Nov 13 '20 at 6:18
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Put a number on Line 4c that is greater than your pay. (Put 1000000, for example.) That will result in any remaining amount after all other deductions being withheld as income tax.

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  • Yep that is essentially what I have done so far (which was the "best guess" I wrote in my Question) - I hope that results in what we are thinking :)... I will report back after I see what happens in my next subsequent paychecks... Thanks! – cellepo Nov 13 '20 at 18:20
  • Yes that is what ended up happening. I'm not sure if that would always happen in anyone's case, so maybe my acceptance of the other Answer might still be appropriate. – cellepo Dec 7 '20 at 0:14

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