IRS Encourages Taxpayers to Check Withholding

Are you having enough money withheld from your regular paychecks? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has made several significant changes to the tax rules for individuals for 2018 through 2025. As a result, many taxpayers who previously itemized deductions are expected to claim the standard exact amount of your previous tax liability.

You pay at least 90% of the current year's "annualized income." The annualization method often works well for certain individuals, such as independent contractors, who receive most of their income on a seasonal basis.

Despite these safe harbor rules, the IRS encourages taxpayers to use withholding (if possible) to navigate their way around potential penalties.

TCJA Changes

If you've been having "just the right amount" withheld for your circumstances in the past, the TCJA has altered the landscape. Examples of major changes that will affect individuals for 2018 through 2025 include the following:

In light of these changes, many taxpayers who have itemized in the past may instead opt for the standard deduction starting in 2018. This could have a major impact on their withholding obligations.

Even if you expect to continue to itemize under the TCJA, you can benefit from a "paycheck check-up," especially if you have older children who won't qualify for the $2,000 child tax credit or you report income from more than one job. (See "3 Families Who Might Need to Adjust Their Withholding" at right.)

Of course, your withholding choices should also reflect your personal preferences. For instance, some taxpayers prefer to overpay taxes during the year so they can receive a big tax refund from Uncle Sam. Others like to just break even.

To adjust your withholding, request a new W-4 form from your employer, fill it out and then submit it. Any withholding change will show up in the next payroll calculation.

Need Help?

The IRS offers worksheets for estimating the "right" amount of withholding, as well as a new online withholding calculator to help you crunch the numbers. Unfortunately, the online calculator requires you to input a lot of financial information, which can be time consuming. And many people aren't comfortable putting sensitive personal data into cyberspace.

To minimize the hassle and potential security risks, discuss your withholding with your tax advisor. He or she can help you sort through the provisions of the TCJA that will affect your tax situation and address other withholding objectives in the coming years.

3 Families Who Might Need to Adjust Their Withholding

What sort of situations might require a change in withholding? Computing the right amount to withhold can be complicated. Although there are numerous factors that affect your decision, here are three examples of scenarios that might require a change in withholding for 2018.

The Miller Family

The Millers are a married couple who file jointly. They live in a state with high income and property tax rates. Last year, they claimed more than $35,000 in state and local income and property taxes.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the Millers' 2018 itemized deduction for state and local taxes will be limited to only $10,000. Depending on their other deductions, they might decide to claim the standard deduction of $24,000 instead. So, it's a good idea for the Millers to re-evaluate their withholding for 2018.

The Patel Family

The Patels are a newly married couple who bought a home in an expensive area in March. With the new acquisition debt of $1 million, their mortgage interest payments are expected to be around $7,000 a month, or $70,000 for 2018.

The Patels expect to itemize deductions, but interest on only $750,000 of acquisition debt will be deductible under the TCJA. This couple should assess their withholding to determine whether they need to set aside more or less in 2018 to cover their estimated tax obligation.

The Smith Family

The Smiths are a married couple who file jointly. They have four dependent children, including twins who will turn 17 in November. The other two children are younger. In the past, this family itemized deductions. But, under the TCJA, their expected itemized deductions will total only $20,000. So, they expect to take the $24,000 standard deduction.

In addition, the Smiths will lose out on the tax benefit of six personal exemptions — but two of their children will qualify for a $2,000 child tax credit. Their twins will each qualify for a $500 tax credit, but they won't qualify for any higher education tax credits until they go to college in 2019. The Smiths may need to revise their withholding in 2018 and then again when the twins go off to college.

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