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I was recently married and filed a new W4 form (federal US tax withholdings). I checked "Married but Withhold at Single Rate" meaning that my withholdings should be the same as when I was filing as a single person.

The (only) HR/Payroll person at my employer filed this paperwork, but my taxes were withheld at the lower married rate instead of the higher single rate, like I wanted. I've sent two emails asking her to double check this, but she insists that it is not possible for a married person to withhold taxes at a single rate.

I know for a fact that she is wrong, but I've already asked her to double check twice to no avail. She is the only HR/Payroll person in the organization, so there's no one above her with experience in this area for me to appeal to. How can I handle this?

  • How do you know if the automated payroll system allows for the configuration you seem to be demanding here? – JB King May 30 '13 at 20:31
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    That's a good point. I don't know if the payroll system allows it, but since it's a legitimate option allowed by the federal government, I'd sure hope it does. Is "the payroll system doesn't let me punch that in" a legitimate excuse for not filing an employee's tax withholdings they way that they want? – Hi pals May 30 '13 at 20:33
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    I don't know about the USA, but in the UK, employee tax matters can usually be adjusted post facto by interacting directly with the tax office, whatever an employer might have entered at the time. In which case one would let payroll do what they feel they must, and sort it out personally. – AakashM May 31 '13 at 8:37
  • If this question title were rephrased (leave out the part about how to tell her she is wrong, just say that you want to file married but withold at single rate, and the HR staff won't do it), it could be answered at Money SE. Consider migrating over there? – Ellie Kesselman Jun 1 '13 at 14:56
  • @FeralOink I don't have a question of whether or not it can be done. I know it can be done. This is about how to engage my HR rep without sounding like I think I can do her job better than she can. – Hi pals Jun 5 '13 at 14:34
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First, she may mean to say that the software you use will not allow a married person to withhold at the single rate. Taxes seem incredibly complicated to people who aren't exposed to them on a regular basis, and many take a "black magic" approach to what their payroll system provides.

An employer must withhold the amounts as detailed in IRS Publication 15 (there are several methods for calculating, so the exact number might be different depending on the method, but close).

An employer may withhold more at an employee's request (as you have done be electing to use the unmarried tables in calculating your withholding). You can also specify less exemptions, and/or a specific dollar amount to withhold in addition to the calculated amounts. In any case, if you request they withhold more, they have to do so.

They can not withhold less unless you claim specific exemption, which only applies to special cases, and not yours.

Breaking out the specific laws that require your employer to withhold at the higher rates when you request them to probably isn't the best way to approach this problem. I would start by asking her why she believes you must use the married rate, and see if you can clear up any minor confusion. If that doesn't work, you might have to get someone involved who does know payroll tax law to explain it to her.

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As a general rule, you think you are right, she thinks she is right so it's word against word. But then the position comes in play. You are the developer, you aren't supposed to be an authority in legal/tax things. She is HR so she thinks she must know better because she works with it every day.

Provide some evidence. This must not be an opinion from internet forum. This must be the source text of the legal act or the expertise of tax specialist.

Now she reacts the same way as you if she come to you and say you how to configure a server. You need a bit more than your words only to prove to be right.

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    Its usually a checkbox right on the w4, which is a government form. If that's not enough I don't know what is. – Andy Jun 5 '13 at 0:44
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The need to file as "Married but withholding at the single rate" is a recognized payroll standard:

For newlyweds upon returning to work after their honeymoon: If you and your spouse both work and earn a similar amount of money, and you don't own a home, you should each file a new Form W-4 with your employer claiming "Married but withhold at the higher single rate"...

The person who asked the question added this clarification:

I don't have a question of whether or not it can be done. I know it can be done. This is about how to engage my HR rep without sounding like I think I can do her job better than she can.

You already attempted to "engage your HR rep". You are an employee. It is your right to declare the filing status that is most appropriate for your needs. Filing status is selected on a W-4 form, which is published by the Internal Revenue Service for the United States Government.

Suggestions

  1. Does your HR rep have a supervisor? You could speak with that person.
  2. You could talk with your own manager. It is part of his job to help you with such matters, once you have gone through proper channels.
  3. If there is a more senior person at the company, who is "in the know", you could casually ask what he or she would suggest, without going into particulars of your withholding particulars. This should be done as a last resort, as people have a tendency to gossip. Your boss, and the HR rep's supervisor, will not gossip about you.

If you pursue options 1 or 2

  • You sent two emails, and received two responses from your HR rep. Print out the emails, and responses, including the time and date stamps.
  • Print and complete a new W-4 form with the appropriate box, "Married Filed as Single" checked.
  • Gather up several pay periods of paychecks, which indicate what was withheld prior to your requests, and after your requests for revised withholding status. There will be no change, as the HR rep did nothing to help you.
  • Put it all in a folder, tabbed and labelled, so that you can get to each section easily.

Do this, else you will continue to be at the mercy of your HR rep's ignorance with you W-4, and potentially other matters that are of greater importance e.g. pre-natal care for your wife if you have major medical, or your bonus/ profit sharing distribution.

Also consider the fact that you may be penalized by the IRS for underpaying your income taxes, due to inadequate withholding. This IRS guide specifically describes the scenario which pertains to your situation, that of filing jointly rather than separately, given the amount of income earned by the employee and spouse.

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“The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe." - Dr. Leonard McCoy (Star Trek)

She believes she is right because the software accepted her input. That is the limit of her understanding. Getting mad at her is like getting mad at your cat for not balancing your checkbook.

Ask her about an automated savings plan (diverting part of your pay to a savings account) and work it that way. That way you segregate your funds (which is your root intent, is it not?) and you will use the savings account to hold the money if you need to make extra payments. I assume you or your wife has some 1099 income and you're trying to cover the tax bill? Just make your quarterly 1040-ES payments from the savings account and don't worry about your HR person any more.

Life is too short to suffer fools. Sidestep stupidity whenever possible. In the long run, you'll be happier.

  • Actually no. No 1099. Even at a married 0, we still need additional with holdings because of the level of income we are at. – Hi pals Jun 5 '13 at 10:53
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    @Just a guy - Well, heck, I should be charging you for this advice, then. :) – Wesley Long Jun 5 '13 at 16:14
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    haha! It's not that much, but two earners filing jointly breaks the US tax tables pretty quickly. They were made at a time when most women didn't work, and they also expect that you each make roughly the same amount. If you don't fit that mold, all kinds of crazy nonsense happens! – Hi pals Jun 5 '13 at 16:24
  • He shouldn't need to do this. The situation is ridiculous! Clever thinking though, @WesleyLong Also, no one should file quarterly ES unless they need to. Employee tax returns are much easier, less chance of getting audited etc. If one is self-employed, or a contractor paid by 1099, then of course, 1040-ES is worth it! – Ellie Kesselman Jun 6 '13 at 10:36
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    Mr. Oink, you are correct. I was building on an assumption I had made that turned out to be incorrect. I assumed this because I have colleagues that do exactly this. – Wesley Long Jun 10 '13 at 20:35

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