Why We Claim Zero Tax Exemptions

How Zero Exemptions Make Us Feel

If you read last week’s post, you already know why Johnny and I do our own taxes. We also mentioned that we claim zero tax exemptions. And today we’ll explain why we’d do such an unthinkable thing.

Last week, we got our final W2 in the mail, and Johnny could barely wait for dinner to be over before he went to work on filing our taxes. Part of his giddiness stems from knowing that because we claimed zero exemptions, we’ve got a hefty tax return coming our way.

Of course, the government isn’t actually giving us money. The money was ours all along. And if we’d really wanted it, we could have claimed some exemptions and gotten that money throughout last year. So why in the world wouldn’t we just do it that way?

The Why

For us, claiming zero exemptions is a surefire way to save up some extra money throughout the year. Let’s say our average tax refund with zero exemptions is $3,000. If we chose to claim exemptions, that’d be an extra $250/month in our pockets over the course of the year. That money in $250 increments would be so much easier to spend on this and that. But getting $3,000 in a lump sum is much easier to do something productive with — like funding an emergency fund, contributing to a Roth IRA, or putting toward a car fund.

The Why Not

Oftentimes, the argument against claiming zero exemptions is this: How silly to loan the government our money that we could invest throughout the year! So let’s look at that $3,000 return again. If we deposited $250/month  into an account that gave us a 10% return over the course of a year, we’d earn $167 total in interest… not super compelling. Of course, that’s assumed we actually had the willpower to save that extra money and not just spend it.

When we get our return this year, we’re dumping almost all of it into a 529. Would we have used it as usefully if we’d gotten it in small increments throughout last year? Doubtful.

The only time we wouldn’t claim zero exemptions and opt for the money throughout the year is if we were trying to put every extra cent toward paying off debt. Then it would make a difference to get that money up front. But if the argument is that you don’t want to loan the money to the government BECAUSE IT’S MINE? Eh, we’ll pass.

Our Conclusion

Once again, it’s all about money psychology. And in this case, that money is much more likely to be put to good use if we get it in a lump sum at the beginning of the following year. We’re not expecting it or relying on it, so it can immediately go toward something useful.

Those are our thoughts. Now let’s hear yours. Why do you claim or not claim exemptions?

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  • Reply TT February 9, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Boy oh boy am I all about the big tax refund! I agree it is a psychological exercise over a math function, but those psychological benefits far exceed potential market returns on those same dollars, at least for me. Having a home we can now deduct mortgage interest and property taxes. This has pushed our refund into the next stratosphere, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. We actually still claim an exemption or two, but I’d like to pair those down to zero.

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 10:54 am

      Seriously. We’re really looking forward to our refund this year. And you’re making us downright giddy to be homeowners someday with this ‘next stratosphere’ talk!

  • Reply Brian February 9, 2015 at 7:54 am

    My wife and I both are listed as married (withhold at the single rate since it is higher) with zero exemptions. Our goal is not to get a huge refund, it is more to cover income we have that does not have tax withholding from it such as dividends and the occasional capital gain we have.

    The good news for us, is so far this has worked… the “bad” news is we are starting to get to the point where it won’t work for much longer, which isn’t really that bad of news anyways.

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Yes, thanks for mentioning that. I meant to include that as a reason in this post… claiming zero exemptions helps to cover our bums just in case we end up owing in places we didn’t realize.

  • Reply Kristina February 9, 2015 at 7:57 am

    I like the idea of this, just not sure how much would be taken out of my check and if I could live on it. I’m single and it’s just my income, so this both scares and intrigues me.
    Where can I get more information and/or an estimator on how much it would take out of my check every month?

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

      I would talk to your HR rep/payroll department about it at your work. They should be able to tell you what your adjusted pay would be. Because you’re single, you may already be claiming zero exemptions or just one exemption. They should be able to let you know fairly easily!

      • Reply Greg February 2, 2017 at 12:14 am

        Good luck getting your HR department to tell you anything about projecting your withholding amounts and your exemptions. They will most likely tell you to consult a tax professional…if they answer your phone call at all.

  • Reply Melanie February 9, 2015 at 8:17 am

    I’m in agreement with you guys! I claim zero as well, and getting that big lump sum of money is wonderful. This year since I’m debt free and have my 6 month emergency fund, I plan to fund some savings accounts with it. Possibly fully fund my Christmas fund, and travel fund for the year, etc. I think I make smarter decisions with this big lump sum than increments monthly, as you guys said. 🙂 Enjoy!

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:01 am

      Yes! There’s something much harder about blowing a big sum of money vs a small amount. Sure, it’s not fun to get less through the year, but honestly, we don’t even miss it because we never see it!

  • Reply Ms. Mintly @ MintlyBlog February 9, 2015 at 9:30 am

    I’m in total agreement! In the past, we always claimed 1 exemption, I think, but when I switched from one full-time job to another over the summer, I decided to claim 0 exemptions just to force us to live on a lower income (and to get a big refund this year). However, I was in for a surprise! It turns out that I must have withheld too much on my part-time gig that I had for part of the year in 2014, so that we narrowly escaped owing money back! Thank goodness I claimed 0, though, because if I hadn’t, we’d be sending cash their way! Oof. Hopefully next year will look better, since we will have been claiming 0 all the way along….

    Enjoy your refund!

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Thanks for mentioning this! That’s another reason we claim zero… just in case there’s anything we missed, it helps to ensure we never owe money. We had this same thing you described happen to us one year!

  • Reply Rina February 9, 2015 at 9:44 am

    I claim 0 exemptions and I love getting my tax refund. Because my saving habits are the best (that’s why I love you guys you are inspiring) I use my refund to pay of bills and go on big vacations, however, this year I have increased my exemptions so that I can start knocking off debt and building my savings.

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Nice. That’s a very worthy cause for claiming exemptions. If it means saving and paying down debt, it’s well worth it. Good luck with those goals this year!

  • Reply Zoë February 9, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Back before my husband took a new job in a different state, and we all of a sudden had two households to run (I stayed behind with the kids until the house sold), we always used to claim zero exemptions. We used that money to pay off a car/fund household projects/pay for trips home to London to see family (I’m Brit living in Atlanta). I agree that it’s harder to save that money throughout the year, so we just used the federal govt as our savings acct. When we were back together as a family, I found myself unemployed for a year, so we needed that money every month to pay the bills. Now I am working again, we are trying to pay down student loans and a car loan. We also made sure not to claim all the exemptions the Withholding Calculator suggested, so maybe we’ll get a small refund this year (I didn’t go back to work until July of last year). I just need to find the time to do our taxes!

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:08 am

      Totally agree… if the money is needed from month to month, it’s definitely worth claiming those exemptions. Right now that seems like the optimal choice for you guys because it will help you get those loans paid down faster. And once you do, you can always go back to your zero exemption ways :).

  • Reply Racheal @ Running with Racheal February 9, 2015 at 10:35 am

    I also claim zero exemptions, but mostly because I have a part-time contracting job that doesn’t take out any taxes. So, my full time job pays for my part time job taxes, and anything on top goes straight towards debt (or is at least supposed to).

    It works for me – so far. Ha! Have a great week!

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:10 am

      Very smart… we had a year of our marriage where Johnny was doing full-time contract work, so I claimed zero exemptions with my job, and we also had to put money aside throughout the year in anticipation of his taxes. Claiming zero really helped cover our bums when it came time to owe money! It sounds like you’ve got a good system down!

  • Reply EcoCatLady February 9, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Well, I’ve been self employed for about 9 years now, so I’m painfully aware of the fact that it’s my money, since I have to fork it over to the IRS 4 times a year. There’s no way I’m handing them extra money so they can hold onto it for me!

    I totally understand the psychology behind what you’re doing, but I think you could achieve the same thing by doing your own “withholding” and setting up a system to automatically deposit the $250 into the 529 plan each month. Your money would grow faster that way, and you still wouldn’t be tempted to fritter it away, because you’d never see it – no discipline required. Plus you would be paying yourself first and ensuring that there’s no chance of raiding the stash for something more fun.

    • Reply Joanna February 9, 2015 at 11:19 am

      It really wouldn’t grow that much faster if we took it out throughout the year. And it’s a lot less complicated to just never see it and ensure it’s being saved up for us.

      That said, it’d probably be a different story if we were self-employed. Johnny did contract work for a year of our marriage, and it’s just a much different situation when you’re forking the money over yourself multiple times a year. I could see us doing exactly what you’re doing in that case!

  • Reply Whitney February 9, 2015 at 11:14 am

    I was thinking about moving away from zero to claiming a couple exemptions next year. Like you, I do our taxes, but this year we got a professional to do our taxes (for free!!!) and we got so much more back!!! I just don’t like the idea of loaning my money to the government and then at the end of the year playing hide and seek with my money!!! Its almost like a game to see if you can REALLY find all your money and hope that you got all of it back. I’m leaning towards making them give it to me, I am not fond of games lol.

    • Reply Christy February 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

      That’s my attitude too, Whitney! If I have to beg and scrounge with my taxes to get it back, it’s not the kind of savings ploy I like. 😉

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:17 am

      I can see your perspective. But the way you file your taxes is going to be the same either way… so you’ll get the same amount of money. It’s just a questions of whether you get it throughout the year, at the end, or owe. Either way, the tax filing system is the same, so the amount will always be the same, if that makes sense.

      • Reply Whitney February 11, 2015 at 12:26 pm

        I just always feel like there is something you are missing when you use the free software. Maybe using the free software was my mistake in the first place. It just seems like the professional knew a lot more on ways to get our money back and the free online stuff didn’t offer it as an option to put in that information.

        • Reply Joanna February 16, 2015 at 8:03 am

          Good to hear your perspective! It’d probably be worth using a person one year just so we could compare them as you have. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Miranda @ Miranda Writes Blog February 9, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Last year we claimed exemptions so we could get more on each paycheck because we were finishing up the debt snowball and wanted every extra penny to go toward that. We were pretty diligent in not spending it on non-debt. Once we finished the snowball, we put it toward funding our emergency savings. We thought about changing it but since we still get a refund for college tuition, we’ll probably keep it how we have it for a while. If we didn’t have that tuition though, we would have owed this year. Luckily we got a few hundred back, which will just go into savings.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:19 am

      Very cool. Way to maximize every cent. It sounds like you guys have a good system down for your current stage of life.

  • Reply Anne February 9, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Nice! While I don’t love the idea of giving out an interest free loan (especially after my first year working in California where they delayed state refunds…) I dislike the possibility of owing them at tax time more, so I always aim for at least a modest refund.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Refund delay? That’s ridiculous. We have to owe on time, but they can delay?? Not cool. And agreed… we also like to make darn sure we aren’t going to aim at the end of the year… that’s the worst.

  • Reply B February 9, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    We are the same way you guys are. We claim 0 because we love that nice tax refund. I also know ourselves, I can’t say that we would be smart with that extra cash each month, but with the refund it ALWAYS goes to something productive. This year it will be to a new front door and knocking some walls down in our kitchen. Last year we paid off debt, got some new windows and saved a big chunk of it.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:25 am

      Nice. It’s such a good way to start off the year, with that extra chunk of money coming in. It’s a nice little boost to get things started off right.

  • Reply Eric Williams February 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    We’re one of those “keep as much in my pocket on a monthly basis” folk. We try to adjust our exemptions so we get a slight refund every year (under $1,000). Still nice, but not huge.

    But, you’re totally right… it’s a psychological thing. You have to know yourself and know you’ll use the money wisely either way.

    The problem for us when we got a big return was we’d start spending the refund on smaller things and before we knew it, there wasn’t much left to do the big stuff we originally planned on. (pretty much complete opposite of what you described, ha!)

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:37 am

      That’s good you guys have found a system that works best for you. And smart to make sure you always have a slight refund to ensure you never owe!

  • Reply Mark AW February 9, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    This will be our first year filing as married, so we will have some fun figuring out ways to maximize tax savings under new rules (to us). But for both of us, our attitude is to claim exemptions to get a larger paycheck and aim to get a small amount back. Unfortunately my wife is paid hourly so her paychecks are not consistent amounts, which makes budgeting and tax planning a bit more difficult. I guess it’s good to keep us on our toes!

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Yep, filing as a married couple is a whole new ballgame. And it gets even more fun when you add kids to the mix!

  • Reply Rob February 9, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Hi guys!
    Well in my opinion it’s “different strokes for different folks” regarding whether or not to claim tax exemptions. Unlike in the US, here in Canada our mortgage interest and property taxes are not tax deductible so we miss out on those (rather significant) savings. And, what with interest rates not being all that high (compared to past years), whether one tries to receive tax savings throughout the year or at time of tax filing probably doesn’t make a lot of $$$ difference. That said however, before we retired every year we always tried to tax plan as efficiently as possible and took the tax exemptions into income as soon we could. Basically filling out a form, directing our respective employers to slightly reduce our payroll tax deductions was all it took. Back then we this was mainly because of our RRSP contributions. The money saved would then be deposited into high interest savings accounts / investments and year over year compounding would then also add to the benefit. Now this strategy worked for us and your strategy works for you. It’s a personal lifestyle call – whichever is the easiest to handle in my opinion.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:43 am

      That’s too bad! Hopefully there are other Canadian tax perks of home ownership! Funny how circumstances change things… had we been in your shoes back in the day (as well as in your country), we might have chosen the same route. For now in our current stage of life, this is the system that’s working for us!

  • Reply Amanda Rowan February 9, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    This is so smart to think of money in these terms! I would’ve guessed you would claim extra exemptions for a smaller (or no) refund because you guys are already so disciplined about maximizing your savings and budgeting–sure it’s not a huge return over a short period of time, but 100 dollars is more than nothing! But knowing well how you’ll handle your money and playing to your strengths is awesome.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:46 am

      I’d like to think we could be disciplined, but pretending the money isn’t there at all is the easiest way to be disciplined for us! And it’s a really nice way to start off the year — with a nice chunk of money coming our way.

  • Reply Caity February 9, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    The first year my husband and I were married and both had full-time jobs, we each claimed 1 exemption and our status was “married.” When I did our taxes for that year, we owed a few thousand dollars. So we changed to zero exemptions and changed our statuses to “Married withhold at single rate.” It was not a good feeling owing taxes. I also agree with you- I’m more likely to take a large sum of money and use it for something wisely than I am if it’s a smaller amount each month.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Ugh… we’ve had to owe one year of our marriage, and it was no fun. That’s how we file, too… we withhold at a single rate and claim zero. It’s nice knowing for sure we won’t be owing anything come January!

  • Reply Anna | Gone Banannas February 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I claim zero for the same exact reason! I could be paying down my debt monster a little bit every month with that money, but the truth is that I don’t. I end up buying other crap. When I got my tax return money back (yes, I already got it back because I jumped to filing my taxes the same way Johnny did!) I put it directly to paying off my credit card and it feels AWESOME!

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Yes… same here. Feeling like we have less money throughout the year actually makes us better savers. And then getting that extra money back is a nice surprise! And way to go on putting it toward paying off your cc! What a great way to start the year.

  • Reply Suzanne February 9, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    In Ireland, our tax is deducted from our pay by employers so there’s no doing our own taxes type situation unless you’re self employed. That being said, we can claim mortgage interest relief and relief for health insurance but they’re deducted at source so again, its not something that’s tangible as such. Every year though, we can claim tax back for prescriptions or doctors fees, radiology etc at a rate of 20%. So, for every 100 spent, we can potentially get 20 euro back less any refund through insurance. Has your brain exploded yet with all the tax waffle!!!!! Sorry!!! Upshot is I think getting a lump sum is a great idea!!! Way better than getting it piecemeal! Its like a savings fund which you can access once a year!

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Crazy. Although, your system actually sounds less complicated than ours. Our tax system is so convoluted that none of us even understand it. Our employers take it out automatically, but when we fill out our tax form when we get hired, we can check certain boxes that dictate how much is taken out — if that makes sense.

  • Reply Tarynkay February 9, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    We claim all of our exemptions. We still get a refund, I think that is just due to our tax bracket. Every time my husband has gotten a raise, we have just had the amount of the raise automatically transferred to savings every month. So we don’t see it anyhow.

    What really makes me mad is that every year, our bank overcharges us for our mortgage and there ends up being about $80 too much in our escrow account. Then they send us a check for this every year like they are doing us some huge favor. I do not know why they can’t just charge us the correct amount to begin with. I realize it is not a large amount of money, but it still makes me mad.

    • Reply Johnny February 24, 2015 at 8:20 am

      Awesome job on the automatic transfer. With those raises, just keep an eye on your tax bracket so that you’re not accidentally taken for surprise one year and owe something.

  • Reply Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja February 10, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I embrace that tax refund as well. I know it doesn’t make financial sense or whatever, but it makes me feel good when that check hits my bank account and I can use that lump sum to invest it. Yes, yes, I could’ve been investing that money all year, but I don’t want to worry about having to pay taxes at the end of the year.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Agreed. It simplifies things, and for multiple reasons, it helps us spend our money more purposefully.

  • Reply Joe Proctor February 10, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I think 0 exemptions is just a little silly, but it sounds like you have a smaller income and simpler life. We were in your shoes about 10 years ago.

    We always shoot for a refund. This year it will be about $2800. It usually ranges from $1500-2500. I would like to get it down to $1000. I had to pay back on year. That sucks. So I want some cushion there.

    We are solid budgeters and do a good job at saving. Last year we made a whopping $25 in interest. WHOOOO!!!
    I like having control over my money though. I don’t want Uncle Sam holding it all year. That’s a bigger psychological boon to me.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Ha, well, you’re free to think what you want about smaller and simpler. But frankly, we’d still be claiming zero exemptions even if we were bigger and less simple. Glad you’ve found a system that works for you.

  • Reply B February 10, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    As someone who is looking at having to pay the government (thanks, capital gains), this is not a bad idea at all. Instead of dreading tax time, y’all are looking forward to it – I hope its a big one!

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 11:10 am

      Thanks! And ugh… hope you don’t owe much!

  • Reply Christy February 11, 2015 at 9:00 am

    We’re the exact opposite- tried to get our exemptions down and monthly amount down (i’m all disciplined like that), but our high charitable with tithe means we always get a large return. That bigger lump is a nice shot in the arm, that’s for sure.

    • Reply Joanna February 11, 2015 at 11:14 am

      It sounds like you’ve found the best of both worlds for you guys. If it works for you, stick with it!

  • Reply Jonathan Craig February 11, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    I do the same thing! Everyone thinks I’m crazy but I love the big return.

  • Reply Katie @ This That and the Budget February 12, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    We aim zero exemptions on our taxes as well. I can’t stand owing more to the government at the end of the tax year. Much like you, I’d rather have them hang onto it for a little while and the give it back. Otherwise we would be spending it instead of being productive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Reply Joanna February 16, 2015 at 8:08 am

      We owed money one year, and it was the worst. IT’s nice to be able to have a chunk of money to do something productive with at the beginning of the year!

  • Reply Kristin February 12, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Math-wise the idea of a $0 refund appeals to me and I tend to automatize our sinking funds and savings like a total nerd, so I would trust myself, but we claim fewer exemptions than we could on my husband’s withholding forms so that I don’t have to make estimated quarterly payments on my home daycare business. I’m always nervous about owing taxes in April. We did once, and even thought it wasn’t much, it sucked! I’d rather get a refund than owe even a small amount.

    • Reply Joanna February 16, 2015 at 8:09 am

      Yep. As long as you can ensure you don’t owe, it sounds like you guys have found a system that works well for you!

  • Reply Katie February 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    One of the dumb things I did last year was sign us up for a flexible spending account for dependant care. My husband & I are on the same thought as you – we would rather get a lump sum once a year that we can spend more wisely than having the tax break all year long. However, since my husband is in grad school (can I stop saying that in all my comments now?!?), we thought it would help us month to month. It definitely has, but the tax calculator I did gives me very little hope for a decent tax return this year!!! We also signed up for the FSA for 2015 but I will not sign up for it again in the coming year. It is a headache for us because our daughter’s daycare doesn’t even accept the card, so we have to get reimbursements… it really has been more of a hassle than a help. Too bad it will take us 2 years to get back on track. Oh well… live and learn, as they say!

    • Reply Joanna February 16, 2015 at 8:39 am

      That’s frustrating… but at least that is pre-tax money you can use on something useful! Why must everything be such a hassle?? Once your husband’s out of school, maybe you’ll be able to simplify things more. Good luck with this year!

      • Reply Katie B. February 16, 2015 at 9:48 am

        Yes, the extra money each month has been helpful since we are on a limited income. But I am going to dearly miss getting that big tax refund!!!

      • Reply Katie B. February 23, 2015 at 5:44 pm

        Ummmm… did our taxes Saturday and BOOYAH we got a big refund! Apparently even when you have a FSA for dependent care, you claim the entire amount and the wizardry of tax calculations adjusts it for you. When I did the calculators, I was not entering in the total amount of child care costs because I assumed we had already “claimed” it by filing our FSA.

        We are going to use this money to pay off my car (several months early, yay!!!) and buy some maternity clothes because we are now expecting #2!

        • Reply Johnny February 24, 2015 at 8:22 am

          So much awesome news in one comment. Congrats on the refund, the car repayment, and most importantly, babe #2! So great.

  • Reply Ben Luthi February 17, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Interesting! I’ve heard a lot of argument for doing the opposite, but this also makes sense for those who are able to save the tax return like you guys instead of blowing it. It definitely would’ve helped me with my $3,800 tax liability from freelancing this year!

    • Reply Johnny February 24, 2015 at 8:29 am

      Freelancing is actually why we’re so adamant about zero exemptions. For one year, I was working as a 1099 contractor. We were happy to pay our quarterly taxes and claim zero to avoid any April surprises.

  • Reply JP January 1, 2016 at 1:36 am

    I filed my W4 , I did (0) Exceptions / Allowances. When I do my taxes do I claim (1) on my return or (0) ?

    Thank you

    • Reply Johnny January 1, 2016 at 2:23 am

      When it comes time to actually filing your taxes, you’re going to want to claim as many exemptions as you’re allowed (so 1 if you’re single without children).

  • Reply DBeezie January 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Wow … how NOT to take advantage of the power of Compounding Interest …

  • Reply Dan January 14, 2016 at 3:13 am

    Just reminder if you don’t have health insurance you’ll have to pay the penalty. And they will take that out of your refund. Of course your big refund will go toward paying for your monthly health insurance bill that you probably won’t ever use but it’s the law now so say bye to all that money.

  • Reply Kat Smith February 3, 2016 at 3:01 am

    Me and husband both work..we have 1 child..can we both claim 0 to get bigger refund?..when we do our taxes do we still claim 0 or do one of us claim 3..married filing jointly.

    • Reply Johnny February 4, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Sure can! So realize with all of this that all you’re doing is giving the government everything they’re asking for (and then some) upfront. Then when it comes time to actually do your taxes, you’ll claim all the exemptions and deductions you’re entitled to which usually results in a nice refund. But it’s important to realize you’re not actually getting any “extra” money from the government — you’re just choosing to cover your bases to ensure that you won’t owe anything AND getting a nice chunk of change in one sitting instead of a little extra every paycheck.

  • Reply Hannah March 8, 2016 at 11:56 am

    I am getting married in October and just got a new job and am trying to figure out how to file my W-4’s. I guess in a way you’ve probably answered this before, but someone told me that I should claim 0 AND have $10 taken out for state and $5 for federal each month on top of that so that I don’t owe anything at the end. But if I claim 0, how would there be a way I would owe? I want to claim 0 but with being newlyweds and our expenses, I am nervous that we could really use that extra cash monthly. Help! Also, when we do get married and need to re-file, what should we do in that instance? Thanks!

    OH– and I will be on his coverage for medical once we get married and will remain on my dads until then in October.

    • Reply Sammy Soto April 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      Hey Hannah, you should check out TaxBestimates.com.

      In my experience and according to CNN, 8 out of 10 claim 0 allowances out of fear for owing at the end of the year. Until TaxBestimates, there hasn’t been an easy way to easily update your tax withholdings and understand the consequences. Hope this helps.

  • Reply Why I’m Mad We Got a Huge Tax Refund | Dad is Cheap March 31, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    […] overpaying your taxes. You’re essentially giving the government an interest free loan. While that logic works for some people so they can use it as a forced savings, this budget nerd would rather have that money up […]

  • Reply Jason April 7, 2016 at 12:49 am

    Myth: Getting a big refund on my income taxes is a good way to save money.

    Truth: If you get a large tax refund, you’re allowing the IRS to take too much money out of your paycheck. You’re loaning the government your money—interest free. That’s money you could use to pay off debt and/or build wealth each month.

    Getting a chunk of your money back at tax time is not the same as taking it home in your paycheck each month. According to the IRS, the average tax refund will be $2,800 in 2010. That’s about $230 per month you can’t use because you’re sending it to the government!

    If you’re following the Baby Steps—Dave Ramsey’s plan to get you out of debt and building wealth—$230 will go a long way. In Baby Step 2, you pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball. Imagine how much more quickly you could accomplish that by adding $230 each month to your payments. And, because you’d be paying down principal, you’d save on interest, too.

    Or, instead of giving your $230 a month to Uncle Sam, invest it in a Roth IRA earning a 12% rate of return. In 10 years, you’ll have $53,438. Got some extra time? After 32 years, your Roth IRA will be worth over $1 million—tax free!

    It boils down to the time value of money

  • Reply Olivia April 13, 2016 at 9:56 am

    The argument is that when you “loan” the government your money for a year you are disregarding the time value of money which pulls in discount factors, interest rates, and periods of time. $100 today is not worth $100 one year from now due to differences in inflation, interest rates, and loss of reinvestment opportunity. However, I do understand your point of it being easier to just invest a lump sum, but if you were willing to be more conscious of investing monthly, your reinvestment rate would be higher and thus, theoretically, your investment should lend a higher valuation or return.

  • Reply Mike April 17, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I didn’t read through all of the comments, so forgive me if this has already been stated. This article makes the claim that over-withholding is a good solution to a lack of discipline, but there are several reasons why it is not.

    1) Plenty of the people who lack discipline when it comes to monthly cash flow probably also lack discipline when it comes to lump sums – maybe even worse. Why give them that annual chance to fail?

    2) Even if a person still wants to invest a lump sum once they get it, they will likely struggle with doing so. Investing a lump sum is scarier and often causes hesitation. This is in addition to the massive investing delay that this strategy already has built into it. Since the market tends upward, delays cost you money.

    3) The vast majority of people (even professionals) cannot time the market, so their returns will suffer when they try to pick the right moment to invest their lump sum.

    4) Having invested a lump sum, most people will also be more likely to tinker with it afterward, making bad decisions out of fear and driving their returns down even farther.

    In the end, a person following this article’s strategy will get average returns that are somewhere between slightly worse and much worse than if they had just invested the money regularly. A much better solution is to have a portion of your paycheck transfer to your investments automatically. That way, 1) you don’t have to test your discipline and market-timing abilities annually, and 2) your money gets an average of 9 months or so of extra growth (depending on when you get your tax refund), which translates to a lot of money over the long term.

  • Reply Mic June 5, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I’m really scared that we may owe this year because my husband decided to change his W-4 to claim married and 5. I still claim single and 0. We are home owners and have 1 child. I don’t think he made a wise decision. Any advice?

    • Reply JDF April 4, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      You should go see a CPA together, bring the last few years of tax returns and they can give you advice. Or go see a financial advisor. These aren’t things to guess at.

  • Reply Samantha March 18, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    I claim 0 allowances for my full time job and want to do the same for my part time job. Can I do so and not owe money?
    I am single with no dependents.
    Thank you.

    • Reply Johnny April 10, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Great question, but the answer depends. Your best bet at not owing anything is by claiming 0 allowances, but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t owe anything. For example, if you earn too much, or if there are other circumstances (like other income sources), you could still owe. But if your salary is pretty standard and your return is fairly vanilla, odds are good you won’t owe anything else. Good luck!

  • Reply JD April 1, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    The reason I claim ZERO exemptions for my taxes?
    I don’t ever, ever, ever have to pay in again.

  • Reply Cate April 3, 2017 at 9:51 am

    I know this article is old but it’s tax time again. Plus I started a new job and just filled out my W-2 which gets me thinking about this stuff. I actually try to take just enough exemptions to not owe or get a refund. I don’t like giving the gov’t a free loan more than anything else. But in the past when I have messed up, it was nice to get money back.

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