Starting a new job or changing your withholding? What you need to know about the new W-4 form.

HR and payroll advisers still aren't allowed to give staffers advice on the worksheet, which makes it all the more important for employees to come prepared.
Image: The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington on Jan. 28, 2019.
The new tax form is designed to be less complex while increasing the 'transparency and accuracy of the withholding system,' according to the IRS.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Alyssa Newcomb

Anyone who has a New Year's resolution to change jobs or wants to adjust how much tax is taken out of their paychecks in 2020 will have to tackle the IRS' redesigned W-4 form.

The new tax form is designed to be less complex while increasing the "transparency and accuracy of the withholding system," according to the Internal Revenue Service.

"While it uses the same underlying information as the old design, it replaces complicated worksheets with more straightforward questions that make accurate withholding easier for employees," the IRS said on its website.

Of course, filling out tax documents can be confusing, even if a form is supposed to make it easier. Here's what you need to know about the new W-4 form (and what it looks like!).

Why was the W-4 redesigned?

The revamped form complies with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which increased the standard deduction and family tax credits and eliminated personal exemptions as of 2018. The idea is to allow for more accurate withholding for two-earner households. When April 15 rolls around, taxpayers ideally would break even, instead of having to pay the IRS or wait for a refund.

Withholding used to be tied to personal exemptions, which included every adult and dependent in a household. The more allowances a person claimed, the less tax would be withheld. The process wasn't perfect, and at times it could feel like trial and error.

Do I have to fill it out?

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Employees who aren't switching jobs and are happy with their withholding won't have to fill out a new form for 2020, according to the IRS. However, the revamped form could help taxpayers get closer to a more accurate tax bill and avoid surprises when it comes time to file.

How do I fill it out?

Human resources and payroll advisers still aren't allowed to advise employees on the worksheet, which makes it all the more important for employees to come prepared. The form is divided into five parts. It starts with the basics, including name, Social Security number and address and whether a person is filing singly or with a partner.

The second step focuses on other sources of income, such as second jobs or spouses who are also employed. If an employee's spouse makes about the same amount of money, the couple can check box 2(c). If there's a disparity in incomes, they'll be directed to an online calculator or a worksheet to help them determine whether they need to enter extra withholding on line 4(c).

Step three focuses on any dependents who can be claimed on a tax return. This is where it could become confusing.

"If an employee is in a two-earner household and they opt to check the box in step two, both spouses should check the box, but only one of them should fill out step three and step four of the form," the payroll processor ADP warns.

Step four involves any additional income, such as investments or retirement income. Employees can enter the income on line 4(a), or, if they'd prefer to keep it private from their employers, they can enter an additional withholding amount on line 4(c).

Step five is arguably the easiest: Just sign and date the W-4 before giving it to an employer.

What if my tax situation is simple?

Good news! The IRS says anyone with a tax situation they feel is uncomplicated can fill out their basic information in section one and sign the W-4, and they should be all set. People's withholding rates will be determined based on the standard deduction for their filing status and tax rates and nothing more.

Should I still file early?

The deadline for filing 2019 tax returns is Wednesday, April 15. Because the new guidelines took effect in 2018, this year's return can be a good indicator of whether to ask HR for a new W-4 to adjust your withholding.