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I'm a few years out of college now. I've filled out my W4 accurately and I still get a tax refund every year of a pretty sizable sum. The thing is, I have student loans and I would much rather have been paying that extra money on a monthly basis (to prevent interest charges) than have given it to the government to 'hold' for me.

I've spoken to the HR department about lowering my tax deductions and they suggest putting more exemptions on my W4. However this seems off because I would essentially be purposely filling out a form incorrectly. Also, I don't see anything on this one sheet to take into consideration my student loan interest deduction, which is a large part of where my refund comes from.

How do I pay my taxes correctly throughout the year so that I don't owe or receive any money when I file?

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    +1 for someone who understands that it's disadvantageous to get a tax refund, and advantageous to owe (a slight amount of) tax – user102008 Sep 30 '14 at 18:57
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    I would like the answer to this question but in the context of Canada... – karancan Sep 30 '14 at 20:43
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    @karancan It is acceptable for you to ask another question and then answer it yourself. See: money.stackexchange.com/help/self-answer – Alex B Sep 30 '14 at 23:08
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    @karancan: I think AlexB misunderstood you and thought you wanted to answer [verb] the question, but you wanted the answer[noun]. Still, it's perfectly OK to ask the equivalent question. – MSalters Oct 1 '14 at 7:31
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    @karancan For Canada, you have to submit Form T1213 to the CRA cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/t1213/README.html . In 4-6 weeks they will provide you a letter to give to your employer to reduce your witholdings. You must submit this form every year. – jimbojones Oct 1 '14 at 16:54
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On the back of the W4 is a Deductions and Adjustments worksheet. This worksheet will give you an accurate number to enter on line 5 of your W4.

  • Thank you everybody for the answers. I'de only ever seen the front of the W4 as it was handed to me at work (with no back). While other people included this in their responses, this answer directly tells me that I've been missing part of the sheet which was my issue. – Carlos Bribiescas Oct 1 '14 at 12:17
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This is a frequent problem for anyone with a large amount of deductions, whether it is student loan interest, home mortgage interest, charitable contributions, or anything else.

As an employee getting your tax withheld from your check, your options to reduce the amount withheld are limited. The HR department has no control over how much they withhold; the amount is calculated using a standard formula based on the number of exemptions you tell them.

The number of exemptions you claim on your W-4 form does not have to match reality. If you currently have 1 exemption claimed, ask them what the withholding would be if you claimed 4 exemptions. If that's not enough, go higher. As long as you are not withholding so little that you have a large tax bill at the end of the year, you are fine.

Of course, when you do your taxes, you need to have the correct number of exemptions claimed on your 1040, but this number does not need to match your W-4.

  • Any idea if the same principle applies to Canada too? – karancan Sep 30 '14 at 20:43
  • @karancan Sorry, I don't know anything about taxes in Canada. – Ben Miller Sep 30 '14 at 20:56
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    The only risk you face in doing this is if you owe more than $500 to the IRS at year end you have to pay a penalty. – Jacob Sep 30 '14 at 22:24
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    @Jacob - You're talking about The penalty for underpayment of estimated tax: "Generally, most taxpayers will avoid this penalty if they owe less than $1,000 in tax after subtracting their withholdings and credits. Or if they paid at least 90% of the tax for the current year, or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the prior year, whichever is smaller". IRS Topic 306 - Penalty for Underpayment of Estimated Tax. – Kevin Fegan Oct 1 '14 at 2:07
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    @Jacob - For completeness (since this doesn't seem to apply to the OP)... you are also exempt from the penalty if you had no tax liability for the previous year. This page has more information than the previous information I linked to: IRS Publication 505, Chapter 4, Underpayment Penalty, Exceptions. – Kevin Fegan Oct 1 '14 at 2:36
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The purpose of the W-4 form is to allow you to adjust the withholding to meet your tax obligations.

If you have outside non-wage income (money from tutoring) you will have to fill out the W-4 to have extra taxes withheld.

If you have deductions (kids, mortgages, student loan interest) then you need to adjust the form to have less tax taken out.

Now if yo go so far that you owe too much in April, then you can get hit with penalties and a requirement to file your taxes quarterly the next year.

Most years I adjust my W-4 to reflect changes to my situation. The idea is to use it to manage your withholding so that you minimize your refund without triggering the penalties. The HR department has advised you well.

How to adjust:

If you want to decrease withholding (making the refund smaller) add one to the number on the worksheet. In 2014 a change by 1 exemption is equal to a salary adjustment of $3,950. If this was spread over 26 paychecks that would be the same as lowering your salary by ~$152. If you are in the 15% tax bracket that increases your take home pay by ~10 a check.

  • I don't see where to adjust on the form for student loan interest. I see a reference for itemized deductions but on the actual sheet I only see Questions A-H. Is there another form I need to do this? – Carlos Bribiescas Sep 30 '14 at 13:46
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However this seems off because I would essentially be purposely filling out a form incorrectly.

Note that the only part of the W-4 form that is required to be filled out and given to the employer is the small certificate at the bottom that you tear off. In this part, it only asks you for "Total number of allowances you are claiming". You don't have to fill out any of the worksheets in the other parts of the form, which actually ask for specific information. Since there are different allowed ways of computing the "Total number of allowances you are claiming", I doubt that any number you put there can be said to be "incorrect".

I think that the best to use the IRS Withholding Calculator. If you use it, the calculator will probably tell you to claim a few more exemptions. And you don't have to feel bad about "filling the form incorrectly" if you follow the IRS calculator.

0

I edited my W4 over several years, trying to get rid of my refund. It's a balancing act, just be careful to not owe more than about $1000 each year. They can hit you with a small penalty. It's never been enough to concern me, but it's there.

It's also a balancing act if you get a raise, a bonus, any kind of differences in pay...

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The IRS no longer requires that employers submit all W4 forms, but they can request a W4 for an employee at any time, and putting false information on your W4 is still a punishable offense.

I agree that having a return is like giving the Treasury Department an interest-free loan for the year, but unfortunately paying the appropriate amount of withholding tax is required.

There is some ambiguous information regarding an employer adjusting the amount of withholding, but it seems to mean that they can withhold more than the estimated rate, but never less than what is calculated using the deductions on your W4.

See the link for more details: IRS Tax Withholding

  • That link also leads to Withholding Calculator – AbraCadaver Sep 30 '14 at 15:56
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    "putting false information" - A withholding allowance happens to be the same as an exemption. i.e. A kid is the tax equivalent of $3950 in interest payments. If I put 10 allowances to evade tax, I am in trouble. If it reflects $40,000 in interest and property tax, there's no false information involved. – JoeTaxpayer Sep 30 '14 at 22:49
  • hah, a kid = $3950 seems like a low number philosophically :-p – Carlos Bribiescas Oct 1 '14 at 12:14
  • @JoeTaxpayer a kid is effectively more than that if you make less than the child tax credit deduction income limits.. though this gets tricky to guesstimate with exemptions. – enderland Oct 2 '14 at 0:32
  • @enderland - agreed. My comment was only to point out that a withholding allowance need not equate only to 1 per person, but 1 per $3950 that you don't want tax withheld upon. – JoeTaxpayer Oct 2 '14 at 3:05

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