February 6, 2024

Navigating the W-4 Form

Were you surprised by the result of your 2023 tax return? Didn’t get the refund you were expecting? Owed more than you thought you would? Or,maybe you realized you’reparking way too much money with the IRS that you’d rather have in the here and now?

When you realize your tax withholdings need to be adjusted due to this surprise when filing your taxes or because your tax situation is about to change, it’s time to re-visit your Form W-4. The W-4, lovingly known as the Employee's Withholding Certificate, can initially seem complicated and scary…after all, you don’t want an even worse surprise by screwing it up. Understanding its importance and knowing how to accurately complete it, however, can significantly impact not just your tax situation but also your overall financial health. 

Understanding Form W-4

The W-4 is a critical form for every employee as it dictates how much federal income tax will be withheld from your pay. As a result, this determination directly influences your take-home pay and plays a significant role in whether you will owe taxes or receive a refund when filing your annual tax return. It could also impactyour estimated tax payments for more complicated tax situations.

The Importance of the W-4

A correctly filled out W-4 ensures that you are not caught off-guard at tax filing time. With too little tax withheld, you might face an unexpected tax bill along with penalties and interest, whereas too much withholding can strain your monthly budget unnecessarily while you’re providing the IRS with an interest free loan. Thus, the W-4 is one of the main instruments available to taxpayers to get those tax withholdings as close to their actual tax obligation as possible.

Steps to Fill Out Your W-4

Filling out your W-4 can be done efficiently through two methods:

  1. Online: Most employers utilize an online payroll system that has employee portals. These portals are where you can view your paycheck stubs or pull your prior year W-2. In this portal, you likely can change your withholdings whenever you’d like. 
  2. Manual Submission: Download a W-4 form from the IRS website and submit it via paper or email to your designated payroll point of contact.

Tips for Accurate Withholding

Annual Review: We recommend taxpayers review their W-4 at least annually or whenever their personal or financial circumstances change.

Utilize Resources: The IRS offers a Tax Withholding Estimator tool on their website, which can be an invaluable aid in determining your appropriate withholding amount.

Scenario Considerations:

  • If you're unmarried with dependents, the "Head of Household" status may be suitable. Without dependents, consider the "single or married filing separately" option.
  • For married couples where both partners work, selecting "Single or married filing separately" may prevent under-withholding issues.
  • Ensure dependents are accurately claimed to avoid duplication between spouses.

Seeking Guidance

When in doubt, consulting with a tax professional can provide personalized advice tailored to your unique financial situation. This step ensures that you're making the best decisions for your tax withholdings, especially when you’re aiming to pair tax saving strategies with the correct withholdings in real-time.

The W-4 form is more than just a bureaucratic necessity; it's a tool for managing your financial wellbeing throughout the year. By taking the time to accurately complete your W-4, you can ensure a more predictable financial situation, avoiding surprises at tax time and ensuring your paycheck reflects your true after-tax income.

About Dark Horse CPAs

Dark Horse CPAs provides integrated tax, accounting, and CFO services to small businesses and individuals across the U.S. The firm was founded to save small businesses (and their owners) from subpar accounting and tax services and subpar client experiences. These small businesses are Dark Horses among their larger and more well-known competition. Being a Dark Horse CPA means advocating for small businesses by bringing them the tax strategies and accounting insights previously reserved for big business. Get a quote today.

Rotating wordsDark Horse logo

Get a personable & experienced CPA who will partner with you to achieve unparalleled results.

Get Started

Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities. The Dark Horse Advisor's website and its associated links offer news, commentary, and generalized research, not personalized investment advice. Nothing on this website should be interpreted to state or imply that past performance is an indication of future performance. All investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to consult with a tax professional before implementing any investment strategy. Investment Advisory Services offered through Dark Horse Advisors, LLC, an Investment Advisor registered with the State of Nevada. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. 

Certain Investment Adviser Representatives of Dark Horse Advisors, LLC are dually registered with DFPG Investments, LLC as Registered Representatives of the broker-dealer and Investment Adviser Representatives of the Registered Investment Adviser. Securities offered through DFPG Investments, LLC member FINRA/SIPC.