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The New W-4 Form

The W-4 form that every employee fills out has been radically altered this year, and here is what you need to know about how the law has changed.

The 2019 form took about 3 minutes to fill out---if that---as the employee only was asked to fill in a few blanks beyond the typical identification information (i.e., name, SS#, etc.), namely they were asked to fill in:

  1. Single/married/married or withholding at a higher single person rate

  2. How many allowances they were claiming;

  3. Did they want anything more withheld from each check and;

  4. If they thought they were exempt from any withholding to state it.

That was it, the entire form covered in about one-third of a page. For 2020, it's a whole new ballgame. How are the two forms different?

  1. The new form asks if your income will be $200,000 or less ($400,000 if filing jointly);

  2. The new form asks you to claim dependents (both under the age of 17 and other dependents);

  3. You now must estimate all other income such as other jobs, interest, dividends, and retirement income if you want extra tax withheld from your income where a payor withholds none for you;

  4. If you expect to itemize deductions and not use the standard deduction, they have you go to a page in the instructions to do an estimate and then come back to the form to fill that number in.

  5. You do not fill in any number for the number of allowances you claim.

Let's look at each change individually and see if this is a substantive change or not.

First, asking about the amount of your income is certainly new.

Second, claiming dependents in advance is not always easily done except for the children under 17, which is relatively well known. If others move in with you or you pay their expenses during the year, it may not be known for quite some time into the year.

Third, estimating your extra income may be difficult as well. If you have a second (or third or fourth) job which is not guaranteed pay, it is hard to estimate what you might make; as may be interest, dividends, and retirement income. It is one thing to ask if you want extra withheld for whatever reason you may have, but now they ask for the factual basis of such added withholding as well.

Fourth, asking whether you may have itemized deductions in excess of the standard deduction creates the same problem as the other new information sought does because so many of you are asked to estimate events that typically cannot be foreseen, such as medical expenses. Mortgage interest may be one thing you can easily calculate, but most of the other itemized deductions are not so easy.

Lastly, and this is the most significant concern, is that you no longer get to fill in the number of allowances you wish to take. In the past, you had that freedom. Today you have no control

The new W-4 is a radical change from the past. Please get familiar with its changes because you will face many questions from employees and employers about it.

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