Remember all of the times that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminded you to do a payroll checkup (like this one)? And remember that you didn’t? The IRS is hoping you’ll reconsider this year. The agency has launched a new Tax Withholding Estimator that they hope will make it easier for everyone to figure the right amount of tax withheld during the year.
Why the need for a checkup? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many individual taxpayers experienced significant changes. Those changes included new tax rates, limits on the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT taxes), a cap on the amount that you can borrow for purposes of the home mortgage interest (you can find additional information about re-fis here), and exclusions for certain kinds of job-related expenses (like the home office deduction – more here).
With the first official tax season following the TCJA now in the books, the IRS has been exploring ways to help taxpayers have a better tax year in 2020. That includes replacing the old Withholding Calculator with the new Tax Withholding Estimator.
“The new estimator takes a new approach and makes it easier for taxpayers to review their withholding,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “This is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to improve quality services as we continue to pursue modernization and enhancements of our taxpayer relationships.”
One of the criticisms of the old Withholding Calculator was that it didn’t work well for all taxpayers; it tended to benefit single-wage earners who were also W-2 employees. Now, the IRS says that the new Tax Withholding Estimator offers workers, as well as retirees and self-employed individuals, a more user-friendly tool to figure the amount of income tax they must have withheld from wages and pension payments.
You can find the Tax Withholding Estimator on the IRS website here. To get started, you’ll need to be able to estimate your 2019 income, the number of children you will claim for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and other items that will affect your 2019 taxes like itemized deduction amounts. You’ll also want to have your most recent pay stubs and a copy of your last year’s form 1040 handy.
The Tax Withholding Estimator is more user-friendly than its predecessor. Here’s what the opening screen looks like:
You’ll begin by entering information about you, including your dependents:
You’ll next input information about your income. Unlike the last calculator, the new Tax Withholding Estimator gives you more options related to the kinds of income you might receive, like these:
Along the way, the tool uses plain language, asking taxpayers questions like:
Deductions reduce the amount of your income subject to income tax. Most taxpayers take the standard deduction. Would you like to take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions?
If you itemize, you can estimate the value of those deductions:
The Tax Withholding Estimator also allows you to go back and fix your errors without starting over – and skip questions that don’t apply (that’s a big change from before).
Remember that the results are only as good as the information you provide. And if your circumstances change during the year (say, for example, that you get a new job, buy a new house or have a baby), you’ll want to revisit the Tax Withholding Estimator to make sure that your withholding is still correct.
If you are an employee, the Tax Withholding Estimator can help you determine whether you need to give your employer a new form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate (downloads as a PDF). You can use your results to help fill out the form and adjust your income tax withholding. For more information about form W-4, click here. If you receive pension income, you can use the results to complete a form W-4P (downloads as a PDF).
One more thing: if you’re worried about privacy, the Tax Withholding Estimator will not ask you to provide sensitive personally-identifiable information like your name, Social Security number, address or bank account numbers. Additionally, the IRS says that it does not save or record the information you enter on the Tax Withholding Estimator.