skip navigation

Search Help
Navigation Help

Topic Index

Tax Topics

About Tax Map Website
Publication 919

How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding?


What's New for 2011(p2)

You should consider the items in this section when figuring the amount of your tax withholding for 2011.
Recent legislation (Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010) extended many of the tax provisions that were set to expire in 2010. This section lists only those provisions that were changed in addition to being extended, as well as those that were not extended. Also listed are tax benefits with adjustments for inflation. For more information, see

Income limits for excluding education savings bond interest increased.(p2)

In order to exclude interest, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $86,100 ($136,650 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)).

Foreign earned income exclusion.(p2)

The maximum exclusion has increased to $92,900.

Qualified charitable distribution (QCD).(p2)

Tax-free treatment of distributions from traditional and Roth IRAs for charitable purposes has been extended through December 31, 2011, with the following special rule. For QCDs made during January 2011, you can elect to have the distribution deemed to have been made on December 31, 2010. If you make this election, the QCD will count toward your 2010 exclusion limit of $100,000, as well as your 2010 minimum required distribution.

Standard mileage rate.(p2)

The rate for business use of your vehicle is increased to 51 cents per mile. The rate for use of your vehicle to get medical care or move is increased to 19 cents per mile. The rate of 14 cents per mile for charitable use is unchanged.

Personal exemption increased.(p2)

For tax years beginning in 2011, the personal exemption amount is increased to $3,700.

Alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amount increased.(p2)

The AMT exemption is increased to $48,450 ($74,450 if married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er); $37,225 if married filing separately).

Lifetime learning credit income limits increased.(p2)

In order to claim a lifetime learning credit, your MAGI must be less than $61,000 ($122,000 if married filing jointly).

Retirement savings contribution credit income limits increased.(p2)

In order to claim this credit, your MAGI must be less than $28,250 ($56,500 if married filing jointly; $42,375 if head of household).

Nonbusiness energy property credit.(p2)

This credit has been extended for 1 year with a reduced rate of 10%. Amounts provided by subsidized federal, state, or local energy financing do not qualify for the credit. The energy-efficiency standards for qualified natural gas, propane, or oil furnaces, or hot water boilers have been increased. For 2011, the credit is limited as follows.

Adoption credit or exclusion.(p2)

The maximum adoption credit or exclusion for employer-provided adoption benefits has increased to $13,360. In order to claim either the credit or exclusion, your MAGI must be less than $225,210.

Temporary decrease in employee's share of payroll tax.(p2)

Social security tax will be withheld from an employee's wages at the rate of 4.2% (down from 6.2%) up to the social security wage limit of $106,800. There will be no change to Medicare withholding.
The same reduction applies to net earnings from self-employment—the temporary rate will be 10.4% (down from 12.4%) up to the social security wage limit of $106,800. The method of figuring "one-half of self-employment tax" for adjusted gross income will change slightly, and a worksheet is provided (see Worksheet 3).

Increase in additional tax on certain distributions not used for qualified medical expenses.(p2)

The tax on distributions from health savings accounts (HSAs) and Archer MSAs made after December 31, 2010, that are not used for qualified medical expenses, is increased to 20%.

Earned income credit (EIC).(p2)

You may be able to take the EIC if:
Also, the maximum AGI you can have and still get the credit has increased. You may be able to take the credit if your AGI is less than the amount in the above list that applies to you. The maximum investment income you can have and get the credit has increased to $3,150.

Health coverage tax credit (HCTC).(p2)

Beginning after February 12, 2011, the credit has decreased to 65% (from 80%) for amounts paid for qualified health insurance coverage for you, your spouse, and other qualifying family members.



Roth IRAs.(p3)

If you rolled over or converted part or all of another retirement plan to a Roth IRA in 2010, or made an in-plan rollover to a designated Roth account after September 27, 2010, and did not elect to include the resulting taxable amount in income for 2010, you must report half of that taxable amount on your 2011 return and the other half on your 2012 return. See the Instructions for Form 8606 for more information.

Photographs of missing children.(p3)

The Internal Revenue Service is a proud partner with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Photographs of missing children selected by the Center may appear in this publication on pages that would otherwise be blank. You can help bring these children home by looking at the photographs and calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) if you recognize a child.


The federal income tax is a pay-as-you-go tax. You must pay the tax as you earn or receive income during the year.
As a wage earner, you pay federal income tax by having it withheld from your pay during the year. This is your "withholding." Your withholding is based on the number of allowances you claim when you file Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer.
The purpose of this publication is to help you check your withholding and, if necessary, prepare a new Form W-4 to adjust your withholding. When you first start a new job, you must fill out a Form W-4 and give it to your employer to establish your initial withholding. You can adjust your withholding by giving a new Form W-4 to your employer at any time.


If you have not changed jobs, you generally do not have to give your employer a new Form W-4 each year unless you need to adjust your withholding.
For more detailed information about Form W-4, see chapter 1 of Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.

Nonresident aliens.(p3)

Before completing Form W-4, nonresident alien employees should see the Instructions for Form 8233, Exemption From Withholding on Compensation for Independent (and Certain Dependent) Personal Services of a Nonresident Alien Individual. Also see chapter 8 of Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, for important information on withholding.

Comments and suggestions.(p3)

We welcome your comments about this publication and your suggestions for future editions.You can write to us at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service 
Individual Forms and Publications Branch 
1111 Constitution Ave. NW, IR-6526 
Washington, DC 20224

We respond to many letters by telephone. Therefore, it would be helpful if you would include your daytime phone number, including the area code, in your correspondence.
You can email us at * (The asterisk must be included in the address.) Please put "Publications Comment" on the subject line. You can also send us comments from, select "Comment on Tax Forms and Publications" under "Information about."
Although we cannot respond individually to each comment received, we do appreciate your feedback and will consider your comments as we revise our tax products.
Ordering forms and publications.(p3)
Visit to download forms and publications, call 1-800-829-3676, or write to the address below and receive a response within 10 days after your request is received.

Internal Revenue Service 
1201 N. Mitsubishi Motorway 
Bloomington, IL 61705-6613

Tax questions.(p3)
If you have a tax question, check the information available on or call 1-800-829-1040. We cannot answer tax questions sent to either of the above addresses.

Checking Your Withholding(p3)

This section explains why, when, and how to check your withholding to see if you will have enough, but not too much, tax withheld for 2011. Also, you may want to use the withholding calculator on the IRS website. Go to and click on "Estimate Your Withholding" under "Online Services."

Why Should I Check My Withholding?(p3)

You should try to have your withholding match your actual tax liability. If not enough tax is withheld, you will owe tax at the end of the year and may have to pay interest and a penalty. If too much tax is withheld, you will lose the use of that money until you get your refund.
Always check your withholding if there are personal or financial changes in your life or changes in the law that might change your tax liability. See Figure 1 on the next page for examples.

When Should I Check My Withholding?(p3)

The earlier in the year you check your withholding, the easier it is to get the right amount of tax withheld.
You should check your withholding when any of the following situations occur.
  1. You receive a paycheck stub (statement) covering a full pay period in 2011, showing tax withheld based on 2011 tax rates.
  2. You prepare your 2010 tax return and get a:
    1. Big refund, or
    2. Balance due that is:
      1. More than you can comfortably pay, or
      2. Subject to a penalty.
  3. There are changes in your life or financial situation that affect your tax liability. See Figure 1 on this page.
  4. There are changes in the tax law that affect your tax liability. See Tax Law Changes, below.
You must give your employer a new Form W-4 to adjust your withholding within 10 days of any event that decreases the number of withholding allowances you can claim, or requires you to change to single status.

Tax Law Changes(p4)

If there are tax law changes that increase your tax for 2011 and you do not increase your withholding, you may have to pay tax when you file your return. If there are changes that decrease your tax for 2011 and you do not decrease your withholding, you may get a larger refund. You can get this money back earlier by reducing your withholding.
For information about changes in the law for 2010 and 2011, visit and click on "Forms and Publications." Look at both links under "Important Changes."

Figure 1. Personal and Financial Changes

Lifestyle changeMarriage
Birth or adoption of child
Loss of an exemption
Purchase or sale of a home
Filing for bankruptcy
Wage incomeYou or your spouse start or stop working, or start or stop a second job
Change in the amount of taxable income not subject to withholdingInterest income
Capital gains
Self-employment income
IRA (including certain
 Roth IRA) distributions
Change in the amount of adjustments to incomeIRA deduction
Student loan interest deduction
Alimony expense
Change in the amount of itemized deductions or tax creditsMedical expenses
Interest expense
Gifts to charity
Job expenses
Dependent care expenses
Education credit
Child tax credit
Earned income credit

How Do I Check My Withholding?(p4)

You can use the worksheets and tables in this publication to see if you are having the right amount of tax withheld. Follow these steps.
  1. Fill out Worksheet 1 (see page 11) to project your total federal income tax liability for 2011.
  2. Fill out Worksheet 7 (see page 16) to project your total federal withholding for 2011 and compare that with your projected tax liability from Worksheet 1.
If you are not having enough tax withheld, line 6 of Worksheet 7 will show you how much more to have withheld each payday.
If you are having more tax withheld than necessary, line 5 of Worksheet 7 refers you to How Do I Decrease My Withholding, later.

What If Not Enough Tax Is Being Withheld?(p4)

If not enough tax will be withheld, you should give your employer a new Form W-4 showing either a reduced number of withholding allowances or an additional amount to be withheld from your pay. See How Do I Increase My Withholding on page 5.
There is a good chance you are not having enough tax withheld if:
If your employer cannot withhold enough additional tax from your pay, you may need to make estimated tax payments. This might be the case if your pay is low and you have substantial nonwage income, such as interest, dividends, capital gains, or earnings from self-employment. For more information on estimated tax payments, see chapter 2 of Publication 505.

What If Too Much Tax Is Being Withheld?(p4)

If too much tax is withheld, you may receive a large refund when you file your return. If you would prefer to receive the money during the year, you should see if you qualify to have less tax withheld. If so, give your employer a new Form W-4 showing more withholding allowances.
There is a good chance you are having too much tax withheld if:


Adjustments to income are listed on the 2010 Form 1040 and Form 1040A near the bottom of page 1. Itemized deductions appear on Schedule A (Form 1040). Credits appear on page 2 of Form 1040 and Form 1040A. See also Figures 1 (page 4) and 2 (page 7).