Getting married later - Change W-4 now?

It’s roughly two months until the wedding, and I’m reading online that if I’m married on December 31st, then the IRS says I’m married for the whole 2011 tax year. That makes sense to me, since I’ve never seen a place to split out taxes by quarter on the 1040.

Doesn’t that mean that I should be claiming married status and a second dependent on my W-4 to take advantage of the marriage bonus I’ll surely be getting? I want my money now, not in April.

It’s legal (or even proper) to claim married status before I’m actually married, isn’t it?

You can claim any number of deductions on your W-4 with no legal penalty. The only consequence is on April 15th, if the amount deducted isn’t enough to cover your taxes you need to be prepared to cough up the extra.

If you’re going to do that (and I have no idea of the legality of doing it before you’re married), make sure your soon-to-be-spouse changes his/her withholding at the same time. There’s a whole worksheet on the back where you adjust withholding based on the salaries of each person.

She doesn’t make any money at all. That sucks in its own right, but it’s great on my taxes!

Absolutely correct, but with this caveat: If the amount withheld over the course of the year is significantly short of of the total tax due, you may owe penalties and interest. So I wouldn’t claim deductions on the W-4 randomly. At least put a little thought into it. The IRS worksheet usually gets you close enough.

Publication 505

§ 6682. False information with respect to withholding

§ 7205. Fraudulent withholding exemption certificate or failure to supply information

And, incidentally, you don’t claim “deductions” on a W-4. You claim “withholding allowances.”

It would technically be illegal to check the “married” box on your W-4 if you weren’t married at the time. You do have to sign the W-4 under penalty of perjury.

Whether you would ever be likely to get caught is an entirely different question which I shall not address.

The by-the-book procedure would be to continue withholding at the single rate until you are actually married. At that point you could file a new W-4 and re-calculate the withholding allowances to which you are entitled taking into account the (excessive) amount of tax withheld at the beginning of the year. People mistakenly believe that you should claim “exemptions” or “deductions” on your W-4. You claim “withholding allowances” which can be justifiably much larger than the number of exemptions you claim on your 1040. So you could claim a larger number of withholding allowances on your W-4 after you get married, but remember to decrease them again at the beginning of 2012.

You will probably find warnings on the internet about not claiming more than 9 withholding allowances. If you have justification for doing so, then do it. Those warnings come from the fact that most people on the internet have not caught up with the changes that happened in 2005. The IRS no longer requires employers to report employees who have claimed more than ten allowances.

But don’t forget that the IRS never even sees your W-4 form under normal circumstances. Only your employer does, and only to figure out your withholding. It’s not sent to the IRS unless they tell the employer to:
From here:,,id=139412,00.html

“Employers are no longer required to routinely submit Forms W-4 to the IRS. However, in certain circumstances, the IRS may direct you to submit copies of Forms W-4 for certain employees in order to ensure that the employees have adequate withholding. You are now required to submit the Forms W-4 to IRS only if directed to do so in a written notice or pursuant to specified criteria set forth in future published guidance.”

So as long as you aren’t too greedy and aren’t deliberatly trying to commit fraud, there is zero chance of being charged for anything you say on the W-4.