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W-4 Form: Purpose and how to fill it out in 2024


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Updated on:
April 11, 2024
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Updated on :

April 11, 2024
W-4 Form: Purpose and how to fill it out in 2024

When managing your income and taxes in the United States, forms are an inevitable part of the process. One critical form that many people have questions about is the W4 Form. If you're starting a new job or reviewing your tax withholding, it's crucial to understand what a W4 Form is and how it impacts your paycheck and annual tax return.

What is a W4 Form?

The W4 Form, also known as the "Employee's Withholding Certificate," is a document that helps employers determine how much federal income tax to withhold from an employee's wages or paycheck. Whenever you start a new job, have more than one job, or undergo a significant life change, like marriage or having a child, you'll likely need to complete a new W4 Form, sometimes called "Form W-4".

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What Is the Difference Between a W-2 and a W-4?

Navigating the tax landscape in the United States can be challenging, especially when it comes to understanding the different forms involved. One common question is how much tax will I owe. Understanding federal income taxes and the different forms involved is crucial. Two such vital forms are the W4 and W2 Forms. While they may appear similar at first glance due to their alphanumeric names, they serve distinct roles in the income tax process. Let's delve deeper into the critical distinctions between these two forms. For a complete side-by-side comparison, refer to our specialized guide on W4 vs. W2 Forms.

The Purpose: Initial Planning vs. Year-End Summary

The W4 Form, known formally as the "Employee's Withholding Certificate," is your anticipated filing status and initial action plan for the year. It instructs your employer on how much federal income tax to withhold from your paychecks or paycheck withholding. You usually complete this form when you first start a job or undergo significant life changes, like getting married or having a child. You can read our article on What is a W4 Form to get an in-depth understanding.

Conversely, the W2 Form, or the "Wage and Tax Statement," serves as a year-end summary for your annual income tax bill. Your employer automatically generates this IRS form at the end of each tax year to document how much tax you earned and how much was withheld for taxes.

What Each Form Contains: Personal vs. Financial Details

  • W4 Form: Primarily focuses on your current financial situation, asking for information like filing status, number of dependents, and other adjustments to calculate your withholding allowances.
  • W2 Form: This is a factual record of your annual earnings, displaying not just the federal income taxes withheld but also Social Security, Medicare taxes, and possibly state and local taxes.

Who is Responsible: Employee vs. Employer

  • W4 Form: It's the responsibility of the employee to complete and submit this IRS form to their employer accurately. This helps to accurately withhold money for income taxes.
  • W2 Form: The employer must generate and distribute this form to the employee and the Internal Revenue Service, detailing the total income paid and taxes withheld.

Flexibility: Dynamic vs. Static

The W4 Form is dynamic, meaning you can—and should—update it when experiencing life changes that impact your tax situation, such as filing jointly, married filing separately, or the birth of a child that could give you a child tax credit. On the other hand, the W2 is a static, year-end summary that cannot be changed unless there are factual errors, in which case, an amended W2 IRS form must be issued.

Legal Repercussions

Incorrectly filling out a W4 could result in penalties for underpayment of taxes. Similarly, errors or even paying too much tax. Similarly, discrepancies in the W2 Form can trigger audits and potential legal consequences. It is advisable to consult the IRS website for accurate and reliable information.

Why is Filling Out a W4 Form Correctly So Important?

Filling out a W4 Form correctly ensures you're neither overpaying nor underpaying your taxes throughout the year. Overpaying might lead to a big tax refund, but that's essentially an interest-free loan to the government. Conversely, underpaying could lead to penalties and a larger tax bill in April. It is best advised to pay quarterly estimated taxes when April comes around. You might even be surprised by your tax refund if you plan carefully.

Sections of a W4 Form

A W4 Form typically has the following sections:

  • Personal Information: Includes your name, address, Social Security number, and filing status.
  • Income and Job Information: Details about your multiple income sources, if any.
  • Dependents: Information about your dependents to calculate additional tax credits.
  • Other Adjustments: Additional income, deductions, and any extra withholding.
  • Sign & Date: Finally, sign and date the form before submitting it to your employer.

How to Fill Out a W4 Form

  • Step 1: Complete the personal information at the top.
  • Step 2: Use the provided worksheet or online estimator for multiple jobs or a working spouse.
  • Step 3: Claim dependents, if applicable.
  • Step 4: Make other adjustments for additional income or deductions.
  • Step 5: Sign and date the form.

Updating Your W4 Form

You're not stuck with the same W4 Form all year. Life events such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child warrant an update to your W4. It’s a good idea to review your withholdings periodically to make sure they align with your current financial situation.


The W4 Form is a critical document for determining your tax withholdings. A correct W4 ensures a smoother financial year and less stress during tax season. For further clarification and detailed insights, check out our comprehensive guide on what a W4 Form is and how it differs from a W2 Form.

What Is Federal Tax Withholding?

Federal tax withholding refers to the practice of taking a portion of an employee's wages or salary and sending it directly to the IRS. This prepayment system aims to cover the employee's projected federal tax liability for the year. The amount withheld depends on various factors like the employee's income, number of dependents, and additional withholding requests, usually indicated on their W4 Form.

Importance of Federal Tax Withholding

Proper tax withholding is essential for several reasons:

  • Compliance: It helps you comply with federal tax laws.
  • Financial Planning: Accurate withholding can prevent unexpected tax bills and penalties.
  • Simplicity: It breaks down your annual tax liability into smaller, manageable amounts deducted from each paycheck.
  • Automatic Savings: For those who tend to get tax refunds, withholding serves as a form of forced savings.

How Is Federal Tax Withholding Calculated?

Calculating federal tax withholding involves several variables:

Filing Status: Are you single, married, or head of the household? This impacts your tax brackets.

Income: The amount you earn will influence the percentage of your income that must be withheld.

Allowances and Credits: Factors like dependents, education, and other credits can affect your withholding.

Additional Withholding: Some people withhold extra amounts as a cushion or for specific financial planning reasons.

Employers typically use the information from your W4 Form and IRS-provided tax tables to determine the correct withholding amount.

W4 Form and Federal Tax Withholding

The W4 Form plays a pivotal role in federal tax withholding. You'll need to update this form when you start a new job or experience a significant life change, such as marriage or the birth of a child. The W4 form helps your employer know how much to withhold for federal taxes.

Regularly Review Your Withholdings

Life changes, and so should your withholdings. Whether you've received a significant bonus, gotten married, or had a child, these life events can influence the amount you'll owe in taxes. So, periodically reviewing and updating your W4 Form is advisable to ensure that your withholdings remain accurate.

Recent Form W-4 changes

The primary rationale for updating the W-4 Form lies in its necessity for alignment with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The changes are designed to make the form simpler to understand and fill out, which in turn should lead to more accurate withholding and less surprises come tax season.

Highlighting the Key Changes in the W-4 Form

Elimination of Personal Allowances

Previously, the W-4 Form operated on a system of 'allowances,' which often led to complications and inaccuracies in tax withholding. The recent version eliminates this concept altogether. Now, the focus is more on a comprehensive depiction of your income and dependents for an accurate withholding calculation.

Introduction of a User-Friendly Structure

The new W-4 Form employs a simplified five-step approach to make the process more user-friendly. Steps 1 (Entering Personal Information) and 5 (Submitting the Form) are mandatory, but Steps 2, 3, and 4 are optional, providing avenues for further adjustments based on multiple income sources, dependents, and other deductions.

Inclusion of Comprehensive Financial Information

The new form includes detailed sections where you can declare additional income, like dividends or retirement income, and claim deductions other than the standard deduction. This comprehensive income and deductions section offers a more transparent and accurate way to determine the correct withholding.

Advanced Online Estimator

The IRS has also updated its Online Tax Withholding Estimator, an invaluable tool that complements the new W-4 Form. This estimator allows for personalized calculations, making it easier for you to complete your W-4 Form accurately.

What Employers Need to Know

Employers must transition to the new W-4 Form for all new hires. Current employees are not required to submit a new form but should consider doing so to optimize their withholdings under the new system. Employers should also update their payroll systems to accommodate the changes.

The Impact on Your Financial Landscape

The revamped W-4 Form aims for simplicity and accuracy, benefiting both employees and employers. Accurate tax withholding ensures that you won't end up with a surprisingly large tax bill in April, nor lend the government your money interest-free through over-withholding.

File Taxes Compliantly With Skuad

Understanding the W-4 Form is pivotal for employers and employees, as it is crucial in determining tax withholding and ultimately impacts your financial planning. However, dealing with such complex tax forms and regulations can be daunting, especially for organizations with a global workforce. This is where Skuad comes in.

As a comprehensive Employer of Record platform, Skuad enables organizations to hire employees and contractors in over 160 countries, ensuring full compliance with local tax laws and regulations, including the intricacies involved with W-4 Forms.

To learn how Skuad can simplify your global employment landscape, book a demo today.


What happens if I don't fill out a W4?

If you fill out a W-4, your employer will keep taxes as if you're a single filer with no other adjustments, leading to the maximum withholding. This could result in overpaying taxes and receiving a larger refund during tax season.

Is it better to claim 1 or 0?

Claiming 1 means less tax will be withheld from your paycheck, resulting in higher take-home pay but potentially a smaller refund or owing taxes. Claiming 0 will lead to more withholding and possibly a larger refund. Your choice depends on your financial goals and circumstances.

About the author

Nathan Williams is a Global Payroll Specialist and Finance Consultant. With a background in banking and finance, he is passionate about modern tech practices in payroll management and using global payroll platforms for global payments.

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