How to File a W4

by Grace Ferguson; Updated September 26, 2017
Form W4 helps to determine your federal income tax withholding.

A Form W4 is known as the Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate. Employers are required to give employees a W4 to complete upon employment. The W4 helps the employer to determine how much federal income tax to withhold from employees’ wages. Consequently, the employee should indicate his filing status and number of allowances on the W4. The employer must keep the W4 on file.

Download the W4 from the IRS website. Use the “Forms and Publications” link to access the W4. You must have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer to be able download and print the form. The W4 is available in English and Spanish.

Give employees with citizenship status the W4 for the appropriate tax year. Employees should be given a new W4 upon being hired and whenever they need to make federal income tax changes.

Give employees with nonresident alien status instructions for Form 8233 before giving them a Form W4 to complete. The instructions are available on the IRS website. Non-U.S. citizens may have different withholding guidelines from U.S. citizens.

Explain to employees the importance of completing the W4 properly and honestly. For instance, claiming more dependents than they are truly entitled to can result in them owing the IRS when it is time to file income taxes.

File the paper W4 in the employee’s personnel folder, in a secured area. Create an electronic filing system. Scan and save the W4 in a confidential location on your hard drive.

About the Author

Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.

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