Computing Your Own Withholding

Today TaxMama® hears from Brian in the TaxQuips Forum who finally asked the right question. “What I really was asking was, if I take my withholdings up to, say, single and 8 on federal and state for this check only would I get more of the check?”

To answer your new question, I don’t know Brian.

What was your withholding level before?

OK folks, it time to teach you a little basic payroll look-up. Instead of playing with IRS’s computations on the Form W-4, or using some withholding tool on the IRS site or elsewhere, let me take you straight to the source.

Did you know that you can look up your withholding amounts in IRS Publication 15 using the withholding tables? Here’s what you do.

Look up your filing status of choice (Single or Married are the only two choices for this purpose). Next, look for the frequency with which you get paid – weekly, monthly, etc. Find the right table and look at the grid. (Note: The new Pub 15 actually comes with an Excel spreadsheet with tabs for the different tables. Look at the bottom of the PDF file.)

Let’s say, you want to look up Single, with 8 exemptions on a Semi-Monthly (that means twice a month) earning $2,000 per paycheck. On the spreadsheet for Single Semi-monthly, look at line 167, column M = $80 per check.

Since that table only goes up to $2140 per check, people who earn more have to use the tab for the Percentage Method. Use Table 3 and do the math.

For $4,000, subtract $3377 = $623 X 28% = $174.40 + 202.85 = $670.90. This would be the normal withholding for Single – 0.

To reduce that, each exemption is worth $3,800 per year. Divide that by the number of pay periods a year (semi-monthly = 24)  means each exemption is worth about $158 per paycheck. (Yay, that matches their table, too!)

To wipe out the withholding, you would claim at least 5 exemptions (5 x 158= $790). Yet, since we just saw that 8 exemptions still generates a tax at the $2,000 level, you can be safe and claim 15 exemptions just for the one check – and to heck with it all!

Your company no longer has to send your W-4 to IRS when you claim 10 or more exemptions. So no worries for a one-shot deal. Just remember to file a new W-4 for the next paycheck. Otherwise all your future checks will have no withholding.

And remember, you can find answers to all kinds of questions about how withholding works and other tax issues, free. Where? Where else? At

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