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IRS.gov Website
Publication 51
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195532

5. Federal Income Tax Withholding(p11)

rule
Farmers and crew leaders must withhold federal income tax from the wages of farmworkers if the wages are subject to social security and Medicare taxes. The amount to withhold is figured on gross wages before taking out social security and Medicare taxes, union dues, insurance, etc. You may use one of several methods to determine the amount of federal income tax withholding. They are discussed in section 13.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195533

Form W-4.(p11)

rule
To know how much federal income tax to withhold from employees' wages, you should have a Form W-4 on file for each employee. Encourage your employees to file an updated Form W-4 for 2013, especially if they owed taxes or received a large refund when filing their 2012 tax return. Advise your employees to use the IRS Withholding Calculator on the IRS website at www.irs.gov/individuals for help in determining how many withholding allowances to claim on their Form W-4.
Ask each new employee to give you a signed Form W-4 when starting work. Make the form effective with the first wage payment. If a new employee does not give you a completed Form W-4, withhold tax as if he or she is single, with no withholding allowances.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195534

Forms in Spanish.(p11)

rule
You can provide Formulario W-4(SP) in place of Form W-4 to your Spanish-speaking employees. For more information, see Publicación 17(SP).
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195535

Effective date of Form W-4.(p11)

rule
A Form W-4 remains in effect until the employee gives you a new one. When you receive a new Form W-4, do not adjust withholding for pay periods before the effective date of the new form. Do not adjust withholding retroactively. If an employee gives you a replacement Form W-4, begin withholding no later than the start of the first payroll period ending on or after the 30th day from the date when you received the replacement Form W-4. For exceptions, see Exemption from federal income tax withholding, IRS review of requested Forms W-4, and Invalid Forms W-4, later in this section.
EIC
A Form W-4 that makes a change for the next calendar year will not take effect in the current calendar year.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195540

Completing Form W-4.(p11)

rule
The amount of federal income tax withholding is based on marital status and withholding allowances. Your employees may not base their withholding amounts on a fixed dollar amount or percentage. However, the employee may specify a dollar amount to be withheld in addition to the amount of withholding based on filing status and withholding allowances claimed on Form W-4.
Employees may claim fewer withholding allowances than they are entitled to claim. They may do this to ensure that they have enough withholding or to offset other sources of taxable income that are not subject to withholding.
See Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for more information about completing Form W-4. Along with Form W-4, you may wish to order Publication 505 for use by your employees.
Do not accept any withholding or estimated tax payments from your employees in addition to withholding based on their Form W-4. If an employee wants additional withholding, he or she should submit a new Form W-4 and, if necessary, pay estimated tax by filing Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, or by using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) to make estimated tax payments.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195541

Exemption from federal income tax withholding.(p11)

rule
Generally, an employee may claim exemption from federal income tax withholding because he or she had no federal income tax liability last year and expects none this year. See the Form W-4 instructions for more information. However, the wages are still subject to social security and Medicare taxes.
A Form W-4 claiming exemption from withholding is effective when it is filed with the employer and only for that calendar year. To continue to be exempt from withholding in the next calendar year, an employee must give you a new Form W-4 by February 15. If the employee does not give you a new Form W-4 by February 15, withhold tax based on the last valid Form W-4 you have for the employee that did not claim an exemption from withholding or, if one does not exist, withhold as if he or she is single with zero withholding allowances. If the employee provides a new Form W-4 claiming an exemption from withholding on February 16 or later, you may apply the exemption to future wages, but do not refund taxes withheld while the exempt status was not in place.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000238959

Withholding income taxes on the wages of nonresident alien employees.(p11)

rule
In general, you must withhold federal income taxes on the wages of nonresident alien employees. However, see Publication 515 for exceptions to this general rule. Also see Compensation paid to H-2A visa workers in section 3.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000238943

Withholding adjustment for nonresident alien employees.(p11)

rule
A special procedure applies for figuring the amount of income tax to withhold from wages of nonresident alien employees performing services within the United States for wages paid in 2013. This procedure requires a special chart to be used with the withholding tables to determine the amount to withhold from the wages of the nonresident alien employee. See Withholding adjustment for nonresident alien employees in section 9 of Publication 15 (Circular E).
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195549

Nonresident alien employee's Form W-4.(p12)

rule
When completing Forms W-4, nonresident aliens are required to:
If you maintain an electronic Form W-4 system, you should provide a field for nonresident alien employees to enter nonresident alien status in lieu of writing "Nonresident Alien" or "NRA" above the dotted line on line 6.
Deposit
A nonresident alien employee may request additional withholding at his or her option for other purposes, although such additions should not be necessary for withholding to cover federal income tax liability related to employment.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195551

Form 8233.(p12)

rule
If a nonresident alien employee claims a tax treaty exemption from withholding, the employee must submit Form 8233, Exemption from Withholding on Compensation for Independent (and Certain Dependent) Personal Services of a Nonresident Alien Individual, with respect to the income exempt under the treaty, instead of Form W-4. See Publication 515 for details.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195552

IRS review of requested Forms W-4.(p12)

rule
When requested by the IRS, you must make original Forms W-4 available for inspection by an IRS employee. You may also be directed to send certain Forms W-4 to the IRS. You may receive a notice from the IRS requiring you to submit a copy of Form W-4 for one or more of your named employees. Send the requested copy or copies of Form W-4 to the IRS at the address provided and in the manner directed by the notice. The IRS may also require you to submit copies of Form W-4 to the IRS as directed by a revenue procedure or notice published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin. When we refer to Form W-4, the same rules apply to Formulario W-4(SP), its Spanish translation.
After submitting a copy of the requested Form W-4 to the IRS, continue to withhold federal income tax based on that Form W-4 if it is valid (see Invalid Forms W-4, later in this section). However, if the IRS later notifies you in writing that the employee is not entitled to claim a complete exemption from withholding or more than the maximum number of withholding allowances specified by the IRS in the written notice, withhold federal income tax based on the effective date, marital status, and maximum number of withholding allowances specified in the notice (commonly referred to as a "lock-in letter").
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195554

Initial lock-in letter.(p12)

rule
The IRS uses information reported on Form W-2 to identify employees with withholding compliance problems. In some cases, where a serious under-withholding problem is found to exist for a particular employee, the IRS may issue a lock-in letter to the employer specifying the maximum number of withholding allowances and marital status permitted for a specific employee. If the employee is employed by you as of the date of the notice, you must furnish the notice to the employee within 10 business days of receipt. You may follow any reasonable business practice to furnish the copy of the notice to the employee.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195555
Implementation of lock-in letter.(p12)
When you receive the notice specifying the maximum number of withholding allowances and marital status permitted, you may not withhold immediately on the basis of the notice. You must begin withholding tax on the basis of the notice for any wages paid after the date specified in the notice. The delay between your receipt of the notice and the date to begin the withholding on the basis of the notice permits the employee to contact the IRS.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195556
Seasonal employees and employees not currently performing services.(p12)
If you receive a notice for an employee who is not currently performing services for you, you are still required to furnish the notice to the employee and withhold based on the notice if any of the following apply.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195557
Termination and re-hire of employees.(p12)
If you are required to furnish and withhold based on the notice and the employment relationship is terminated after the date of the notice, you must continue to withhold based on the notice if you continue to pay any wages subject to income tax withholding. You must also withhold based on the notice or modification notice (see Modification notice next) if the employee resumes the employment relationship with you within 12 months after the termination of the employment relationship.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195559

Modification notice.(p12)

rule
After issuing the notice specifying the maximum number of withholding allowances and marital status permitted, the IRS may issue a subsequent notice (modification notice) that modifies the original notice. The modification notice may change the marital status and/or the number of withholding allowances permitted. You must withhold federal income tax based on the effective date specified in the modification notice.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195560

New Form W-4 after IRS notice.(p12)

rule
After the IRS issues a notice or modification notice, if the employee provides you with a new Form W-4 claiming complete exemption from withholding or claims a marital status, a number of withholding allowances, and any additional withholding that results in less withholding than would result under the IRS notice or modification notice, you must disregard the new Form W-4. You are required to withhold on the basis of the notice or modification notice unless the IRS subsequently notifies you to withhold based on the new Form W-4. If the employee wants to put a new Form W-4 into effect that results in less withholding than required, the employee must contact the IRS.
If, after you receive an IRS notice or modification notice, your employee provides you with a new Form W-4 that does not claim exemption from federal income tax withholding and claims a marital status, a number of withholding allowances, and any additional withholding that results in more withholding than would result under the notice or modification notice, you must withhold tax on the basis of that new Form W-4. Otherwise, disregard any subsequent Forms W-4 provided by the employee and withhold based on the IRS notice or modification notice.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195561

Substitute Forms W-4.(p13)

rule
You are encouraged to have your employees use the official version of Form W-4 to claim withholding allowances or exemption from withholding. Call the IRS at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676) or visit IRS.gov to obtain copies of Form W-4.
You may use a substitute version of Form W-4 to meet your business needs. However, your substitute Form W-4 must contain language that is identical to the official Form W-4 and your form must meet all current IRS rules for substitute forms. At the time that you provide your substitute form to the employee, you must provide him or her with all tables, instructions, and worksheets from the current Form W-4.
You cannot accept a substitute Form W-4 developed by an employee, and the employee submitting such form will be treated as failing to furnish a Form W-4. However, continue to use any valid Forms W-4 developed by your employees that you accepted before October 11, 2007.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195562

Invalid Forms W-4.(p13)

rule
Any unauthorized change or addition to Form W-4 makes it invalid. This includes taking out any language by which the employee certifies that the form is correct. A Form W-4 is also invalid if, by the date an employee gives it to you, he or she indicates in any way that it is false. An employee who submits a false Form W-4 may be subject to a $500 penalty. You may treat a Form W-4 as invalid if the employee wrote "exempt" on line 7 and also entered a number on line 5 or an amount on line 6.
When you get an invalid Form W-4, do not use it to figure federal income tax withholding. Tell the employee that it is invalid and ask for another one. If the employee does not give you a valid one, withhold taxes as if the employee was single and claiming no withholding allowances. However, if you have an earlier Form W-4 for this worker that is valid, withhold as you did before.
For additional information about these rules, see Treasury Decision 9337, 2007-35 I.R.B. 455, available at
www.irs.gov/irb/2007-35_IRB/ar10.html.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195563

Amounts exempt from levy on wages, salary, and other income.(p13)

rule
If you receive a Notice of Levy on Wages, Salary, and Other Income—Forms 668-W(ACS), 668-W(c)(DO), or 668-W(ICS), you must withhold amounts as described in the instructions for these forms. Publication 1494, Tables for Figuring Amount Exempt From Levy on Wages, Salary, and Other Income—Forms 668-W(ACS), 668-W(c)(DO), and 668-W(ICS), shows the exempt amount. If a levy issued in a prior year is still in effect and the taxpayer submits a new Statement of Exemptions and Filing Status, use the current year Publication 1494 to compute the exempt amount.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195564

How To Figure Federal Income Tax Withholding(p13)

rule
There are several ways to figure federal income tax withholding.
Employers with automated payroll systems will find the two alternative formula tables and the two alternative wage bracket percentage method tables in Publication 15-A useful.
If an employee wants additional federal tax withheld, have the employee show the extra amount on Form W-4.
taxmap/pubs/p51-004.htm#en_us_publink1000195565

Supplemental wages.(p13)

rule
Supplemental wages are wage payments to an employee that are not regular wages. They include, but are not limited to, bonuses, commissions, overtime pay, accumulated sick leave, severance pay, awards, prizes, back pay and retroactive pay increases for current employees, and payments for nondeductible moving expenses. Other payments subject to the supplemental wage rules include taxable fringe benefits and expense allowances paid under a nonaccountable plan.
If you pay supplemental wages with regular wages but do not specify the amount of each, withhold federal income tax as if the total was a single payment for a regular payroll period.
If you pay supplemental wages separately (or combine them in a single payment and specify the amount of each), the federal income tax withholding method depends partly on whether you withhold federal income tax from your employee's regular wages.
  1. If you withheld federal income tax from an employee's regular wages in the current or immediately preceding calendar year, you can use one of the following methods for the supplemental wages.
    1. Withhold a flat 25% (no other percentage allowed).
    2. If the supplemental wages are paid concurrently with regular wages, add the supplemental wages to the concurrently paid regular wages. If there are no concurrently paid regular wages, add the supplemental wages to alternatively, either the regular wages paid or to be paid for the current payroll period or the regular wages paid for the preceding payroll period. Figure the income tax withholding as if the total of the regular wages and supplemental wages is a single payment. Subtract the tax withheld from the regular wages. Withhold the remaining tax from the supplemental wages. If there were other payments of supplemental wages paid during the payroll period made before the current payment of supplemental wages, aggregate all the payments of supplemental wages paid during the payroll period with the regular wages paid during the payroll period, calculate the tax on the total, subtract the tax already withheld from the regular wages and previous supplemental wage payments, and withhold the remaining tax from the current payment of supplement wages.
  2. If you did not withhold federal income tax from the employee's regular wages in the current or immediately preceding calendar year, use method 1-b above. This would occur, for example, when the value of the employee's withholding allowances claimed on Form W-4 is more than the wages.
EIC
Separate rules apply to any supplemental wages exceeding $1 million that you pay to an individual during the year. See section 7 in Publication 15 (Circular E) for details.
Regardless of the method that you use to withhold federal income tax on supplemental wages, they are generally subject to social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes.