IRS Form W-4 for 2021: Simple instructions and PDF download
Updated January 12, 2021
All new employees need to fill out the new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Certificate once they are hired. Filling out the form accurately is the responsibility of the employee, and the employer must accept the completed form as it is filled out. If an employer does not receive a completed Form W-4 from an employee, they are authorized to withhold federal income tax at the Single – No Deductions rate.
Filling a W-4 out incorrectly can mean employees have unexpected tax liabilities at the end of the year, so encourage them to take their time and follow the instructions carefully.
What is a W-4?
The new form has a five-step process and new Publication 15-T (Federal Income Tax Withholding Methods) for determining employee withholding. It no longer uses withholding allowances. A W-4 should be filled out by all employees when they are hired, or whenever their life or financial situation changes. For instance, some employees may want to fill out a new W-4 if they work a second job, get married, have a child, or get divorced.
Instructions for filling out a W-4
As an employer, you can answer some general questions about W-4s for employees, but you can not fill out the form for your employee, nor can you suggest what impact their selections will have on their taxes.
These are the steps your employee will need to follow:
Step 1: Personal Information
Your employee will enter their personal information including name, address, and their filing status. Note that for any employee who does not have a completed W-4 on file, you will calculate withholdings at the higher “Single” rate.
Step 2: Multiple jobs or spouse works (optional)
This section applies to employees who have more than one job or are married and filing jointly with a working spouse. The IRS offers some guidance here for employees to determine whether they need to complete this step and where to look for additional instructions. Option (a) provides the most privacy for the employee’s information, according to the IRS, as well as the most accurate calculations.
Step 3: Claim dependents (optional)
If your employee has dependents, they will complete this section. Single taxpayers with an income of $200,000 or less ($400,000 if married filing jointly) are now eligible for the child tax credit as a result of the TCJA as well.
Step 4: Other adjustments (optional)
Here, the employee can account for other income not from jobs or add in additional deductions or withholdings.
Step 5: Signature
The employee will sign and date the form, and you will complete the Employer section.
When should a W-4 be completed?
Form W-4 should be filled out by every new employee preferably on their first day of employment, but no later than their first week. You do not need to file your employees’ W-4 forms with the IRS, but they should be kept on file with other personnel records for a minimum of four years. Payroll software providers often offer options for the employee to complete this paperwork entirely online — and often before their first day so you can get to training right away.