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Time to Check Your Tax Withholdings Skip to content

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Check Tax Withholdings to Avoid Surprises

IRS urges midyear review, especially if you're self-employed

estimated tax payment

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En español | As the halfway point for 2019 approaches, the Internal Revenue Service is urging taxpayers who work more than one job or who may plan to work a summer job to complete a paycheck checkup to be certain the right amount of tax will be withheld from their paychecks.

Because federal income tax is pay-as-you-go, you need to either have tax withheld from your paycheck or make estimated tax payments so you won't owe a tax bill next April, the IRS says.

Tax year 2018 was the first affected by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Figuring out the correct withholding for your salaried income, your quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of the two was sometimes difficult. By evaluating your withholding or quarterly payments now, you can avoid surprises when filing your taxes for 2019.


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The IRS calculator can help taxpayers estimate income, credits, adjustments and deductions to determine whether the right amount of tax is being withheld for their individual situations. You'll need your 2018 tax return to review what income you reported and which deductions you took in 2018, and your current pay stubs to see how much you've withheld so far for 2019.

“The closer you can get to your actual situation, the better job the calculator does at pinpointing your withholding for 2019,” says Eric Smith, an IRS spokesperson. The more accurate your numbers are, the closer you can get to the size of the refund you want or a balance due that you can handle.

If you prefer a larger refund, have more tax withheld. If you want a smaller refund, have less tax withheld. “It's very hard to match your withholding precisely, but you can get close,” Smith says. “The law doesn't require you to way overpay your tax, only to pay what you think you'll owe. People don't want a surprise.”

If you decide to change withholding, here are the ways to do it:

  • Paychecks: Contact your employer and adjust your Form W-4 or submit a new one to your employer. If you think you are not having enough withheld, you can use the form to earmark an additional amount of withholding for each paycheck.
  • Sole proprietor, independent contractor or other self-employment: You might need to adjust your estimated tax payments for the remainder of the year. You can use Form 1040-ES to figure out what you owe for 2019 and pay the estimated quarterly amounts. If you use the IRS calculator, keep in mind it does not take into consideration the amount of self-employment tax you owe, Smith says.
  • Social Security income: If you want to have tax withheld from your Social Security, use Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. You can download the form or telephone the IRS at 800-829-3676.
  • Retirement benefits: If your withholding calculation indicates you might want to change the amount of tax withheld from a pension, you can specify the withholding by providing the pension payer Form W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments, or a similar form provided by the pension payer, along with your Social Security number.

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