W-4 Question: Married vs Single Declaration (US Tax Code)

I’m truly sorry if there has already been some kind of extensive thread about this. I started to search this subject, but didn’t want to sift through the results.

Is it illegal to claim that you’re single on your W-4 if you’re married just to have more tax withheld?

I process payroll for a small company and a restaurant. One of the managers–okay, he’s my husband–has been trying to fiddle around with his withholding amount until he finds the right “balance” to avoid either giving the Government an interest-free loan for 12 months or having to owe at the end of the year.

The research I have done–which isn’t extensive, mind you–has yielded seemingly conflicting information. What I’ve read/been told is that if you’re married, you must claim “married + exemptions.” If you want to claim that you are single but you’re really married, there is no penalty unless someone finds out. :dubious:

My husband claims that there is nothing wrong with claiming anything you want. My general feeling is that if a document clearly asks if you are married or single, you have only two options: the truth or a lie.

I told my husband that he should keep his withholding based on “married” and specify an amount to be withheld from each check on a weekly basis.

Who is correct?

There used to be a box that said “Married, but withhold at the higher single rate” . I just looked and there still is, look here, in line 3.

Without endeavoring to offer you advice, I’ll mention that over the signature line on the W-4 this text appears:

“Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this certificate and to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is true, correct, and complete.”

Interpret that as you will.


Of course it isn’t illegal. Those boxes are just short-hand for triggering the types of payroll deductions a person in that situation will likely have at tax time. There is even a box to allow you to have even more money taken out if you have more taxes than usual or want to use it as a crappy savings account. Withholding less than your taxes will be on purpose is what is frowned upon. Remember, your actual tax burden remains unchanged regardless of what you do with your withholding. Uncle is happy to hold your own money for you all year if that is what you want.

Ok, you may have a point there although I withheld at the single rate after I got married. A lot of people never change it. Still, you withhold more than you normally would with no problem. I also don’t think that is the part the perjury thing is targeting.

But isn’t “perjury” still “perjury” no matter what level of dishonesty it represents?

I just don’t know if I feel okay with the fact that I know his “single” declaration on his W-4 is deliberately untrue. I’m the one married to him.

I feel a little naughty entering that information into the computer when I know it to be wrong…

I signed up to be an employee, not an accomplice :wink:

Ain’t the W-4 that matters, anyway. It’s the 1040.

I guess I’m with Bill Door in wondering what the quandary is. There are three choices in Box 3 on the W-4: (a) single; (b) married; © married, but withhold at single rate.

If the box I’ve labelled © is checked, nobody is lying about anything. :confused:

Witholding allowances on the Form W-4 resemble personal exemptions and deductions. But in reality they are not.

You may freely enter whatever you want as long as it results in something like the correct amount of witholding to cover your Fed Income Tax. Where “Perjury” and such get into it is if you enter “exempt” or something like 99 withholding allowances. In fact more than 9 is cause for possible problems- IF you aren’t entitled to them.

You might get into trouble if you enter more allowances or the wrong “filing status” and it turns out you owe significant amounts of taxes. In fact you could very easily owe the “estimated tax penalty” which is in reality interest figuered backwards and charged as a penalty.

No one at the IRS gives a rats-ass if you enter too few or a lower “filing status” than you are entitled to and thus get a bigger refund. In fact, the IRS likes dudes to get nice big fat refunds. Although the interest you’d get on that refund (if put month by month into a regular passbook saving account) would be pennies to you, if that is multiplied by millions of dudes, it comes into some nice interest free cash for Uncle sam.

In any case, the box “married but withhold at the higher single rate” is there to assuage any worry or guilt people like the OP might have.

My Bro, the Enrolled Agent, suggests strongly that dudes withhold enough to get a small refund. If the refund is under $1000, the interest you might have got is insignificant, and there is little chance of oweing, which is bad. You really don’t want to owe. If you get a windfall one year, and thus you owe a shitload, the fact that you got a refund instead of owing the year before can save you from a large penalty. Free advice.

If you are in the situation where husband and wife both work or you find that not enough tax is being withheld do to other income I suggest that you look at page 2 which is a worksheet to help to determine a better withholding ammount based on other sources of income.