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I've searched the internet for hours unable to find an answer to this question. My husband and I are adjusting our W4s now, several months into the year, to reflect that we got married. Because of this, we're using one worksheet as required to fill out the "Two-Earners" section to calculate extra withholding. The instructions are extremely confusing for someone filling it out mid-year. The tables give me wages, but at Line 9, it asks me to divide by the rest of the pay periods left in the year. Does that mean I am only supposed to be calculating the wages from our two jobs between now and the end of the year, or am I supposed to calculate based on our annual wages? Because those are two very different numbers.

If I did it based on our annual wages, then the instruction in line 9, which tells me to divide by the rest of the pay periods for the year (17), would not compensate for the fact that we've already paid some taxes this year out of those annual wages as our single employed selves. That doesn't seem fair. So I'm thinking the right answer is to either divide by the total pay periods for the year (24) to find what should be withheld per pay period (as if we were starting this back in January) or to base it off of wages left this year. The latter, however, seems to produce a very small number as if we were in completely different tax brackets, so I'm concerned about paying too little.

Also can anyone quickly explain to me why this is even necessary? If we both have 0 allowances on our W4s, as is what happens when you fill out lines 1-9 of the Two-Earners worksheet, then why do I still have to withhold more money? What is the extra withholding making up for?

Thanks so much!

  • The W4 is just an informational sheet that calculates how much tax should be withheld. It doesn't matter much because it'll balance itself out when you actually file taxes. i.e. if too much was withheld you'll get a refund, and vice versa. – Michael Apr 11 '17 at 19:59
  • Related, possible duplicate money.stackexchange.com/questions/55642/… – Wesley Marshall Apr 12 '17 at 4:03
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You are correct that W-4s are very confusing for multiple income homes, and even more so if you change salary significantly during the year. There are just too many variables in those situations to provide an effective, simple form.

Unfortunately, the best way to get accurate withholdings is trial-and-error. Try and estimate how much tax you'll have to pay for the year. There are several calculators out there, but essentially you can take your gross income, subtract the standard exemptions for you and all dependents, subtract the standard deductions (or estimate your itemized deductions), and compute your tax based on the federal tax tables. Then subtract any tax credits you may be eligible for.

Then estimate your withholdings for the year by multiplying your current withholdings by the number of pay periods left, and adding your YTD withholdings. If your total withholdings are higher than your estimated tax, add one or two exemptions to reduce your withholdings (and vice versa).

If all that sounds like a lot of work (which it is), at a minimum make sure you withhold as much tax as you paid last year. That way you avoid any tax penalties, but might have a tax bill when you file. If you want to be conservative and withhold a little extra that's fine - you might even end up with a refund when you file.

The good news is it doesn't have to be exact; any difference will determine what you pay (or what refund you get) when you file.

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