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Both my husband and I (married and filling taxes together) just moved to the US and starting jobs in a week. In both jobs they have asked us to fill the W4, and I've filled the Tax Withholding Estimator assuming that it would give me the right information to fill the W4 form.

However, after filling the estimator I get this message: "If you do not submit a Form W-4 to your employer you are likely to get a refund", as well as:

Expected tax withholding $19,836*

Anticipated tax obligation $16,155**

Estimated over payment $3,681

I am having trouble understanding how I can use this information to fill the W-4. I was expecting that this site would give me (and my husband) a pre-filled W-4 with the right numbers to put in each of our W-4, but that is not the case. For what is saying, I interpret that I should not submit a W-4 to my employer, but my employer is asking me that I submit one.

Could somebody help me out to know how to interpret those numbers to fill my (and my husband) W-4?

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  • What site did you use? The IRS withholding estimator is here in case you used something else: apps.irs.gov/app/tax-withholding-estimator
    – Hart CO
    Apr 14 '21 at 5:00
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    Did you complete the estimator using the income for both people? When this is done taking into account the instructions for two incomes, one will be have too much withheld, and the other too little, but together they should be close. Apr 14 '21 at 10:41
  • I used the official one, yes @HartCO
    – Emily
    Apr 16 '21 at 4:26
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The purpose of a W-4 is to let your employer know how much tax to withhold from your paycheck. What their message is telling you is that if you don't submit a W-4, your employer is going to withhold too much tax, and you'll get a refund when you file (and smaller net paychecks). Some people are OK with this, using the government as a type of "savings account". For most people, the goal should be to get as close to possible as your actual tax due at the end of the year, maybe a little more to be conservative.

Getting this right with two incomes can be tricky, since one spouse's employer does not know how much the other is getting paid to estimate your total income (and thus tax owed).

If it were me, and I was confident in the "Anticipated tax obligation" from the calculator (meaning you entered in every possible deduction or at least the largest ones), then I would submit W-4s that withheld about $1,400 per month (1,400 * 12 = 16,800) in total, split however you want. That will give you a 600-700 refund if everything is accurate, or at worst will likely prevent a large unexpected tax bill. That will give you another $250 per month in your take home pay that you can use for better purposes than loaning it to the government.

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