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What Is the Difference Between Single & Married Tax Withholding?

Ryan McQueeney
Employees know that keeping up with the taxes withheld from their paychecks can be a complicated process. Here's a simple explanation of the single and married tax withholding rates.

Employees know that keeping up with the taxes withheld from their paychecks can be a complicated process. Social Security and Medicare are based on a flat percentage and are easy enough to understand, but varying incomes, exemptions, and withholding rates can make things difficult.

The first thing any employee needs to understand is the concept of allowances. An allowance is a pre-determined amount of one’s paycheck that their employer ignores for tax withholding purposes. Employees establish their allowances on their Form W-4, which is completed when one starts working at a new job.

Form W-4s include a “Personal Allowance Worksheet” intended to help individuals determine their allowances by asking questions and providing scenarios. No one is obligated to actually claim the number of allowance that the worksheet suggests, but its tips can be useful.

Employees are, however, required to report their marital status. This can create confusion because, regardless of marital status, employees have a choice on the number of allowances they would like to claim.

Remember, the higher the number of allowances one claims, the less money is withheld from their paycheck. Married people typically choose to have less withheld because they can claim exemptions for two people when it comes time to file, reducing the overall amount of tax they must pay.

However, single people who will owe more taxes, as well as married people with multiple sources of income and taxpayers who—for whatever reason—would like more money withheld, use the single withholding rate.

At the same income, and with the same number of allowances, the single withholding rate withholds more taxes than the married rate.

It is also worth noting that married people who use the single withholding rate on their Form W-4 are not required to claim the single filing status when they file their taxes. What one claims on their Form W-4 is purely for withholding purposes.

Of course, if one withholds too little, they will owe more taxes at the end of the year. In contrast, if one withholds too much, they will receive a tax refund.

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