The term “head of household” refers to a special filing status the IRS reserves for taxpayers in specific situations. If you meet the IRS definition of head of household, follow this guide to complete your Form W-4.
Are You Eligible to Claim Head of Household Status on W-4?
To file your tax returns as a head of household status, you must meet three specific requirements:
- You are unmarried or were considered unmarried on the last day of the year
- You paid over 50% of your household’s upkeep costs during the year
- You lived with a qualifying person in the home for more than half of the year, excluding temporary absences (e.g., school, extracurricular activities, etc.).
If you are filing as the head of the household, you must have at least one qualifying dependent. A person living with you is a qualifying dependent if they meet one of the following definitions:
- A qualifying child (son, daughter, grandchild) that is either single or married and claimable as a dependent
- A father or mother that is claimable as a dependent
- A qualifying relative other than your father or mother who has lived with you for more than half the year is a claimable dependent and is any of the following:
- Child, foster child, or a descendant of your child or foster child
- Sibling, half-sibling, or a descendant of your sibling or half-sibling
- Ancestor or sibling of either of your parents
- Step-siblings, step-parents, children-in-law, siblings-in-law, or parents-in-law
Comparing W-4: Single vs. Head of Household
If you meet the requirements to file as a head of household, you can file as either a single taxpayer or a head of household. Filing as a head of household is more beneficial as the tax brackets are wider, potentially lowering the amount of taxable income owed compared to taxpayers who are single or married filing separately.
You can find a complete list of tax brackets on page 11 of IRS Publication 15-T (2023).
Example 1: A single taxpayer with one job and a yearly income of $25,000 falls into the 12% tax bracket, so they owe $1,100 on the first $16,250 plus 12% of the remainder (in this case, 12% of $8,750: $1,050). In total, this taxpayer will have $2,150 withheld for taxes.
Example 2: A head of household with one job and a yearly revenue of $25,000 falls into the 10% tax bracket. As head of household, they owe $0 on the first $12,200 plus 10% of the remaining revenue (10% of $12,800: $1,220). In total, this taxpayer has $1,220 withheld for taxes. Despite earning the same yearly annual wages, the head of household owes $930 less than the single taxpayer.
Comparing W-4: Married vs. Head of Household
One of the requirements to file as a head of household is to be legally considered unmarried.
According to the IRS’s guidelines, married taxpayers filing separately fall into the same tax brackets as single taxpayers. Taxpayers who are married and filing jointly benefit from slightly larger tax brackets than taxpayers filing as head of household.
Example 1: A married taxpayer filing jointly and earning a yearly revenue of $100,000 owes $2,200 plus 12% of their revenue over $36,800 ($7,584) for a total of $9,784.
Example 2: A head of household with the same yearly revenue of $100,000 owes $6,868 plus 22% of their yearly revenue over $72,050 ($6,149). Despite earning the same amount as a married taxpayer filing jointly, they owe $13,017, $3,233 more than a married couple.
How to Fill Out a W-4 as a Head of Household with 1 Dependent
If you are a taxpayer filing a Tax Form W-4 as a head of household with a single dependent, follow these steps:
- Fill in your personal information: first name, middle initial, and last name
- Enter your Social Security Number (SSN)
- Enter your address, city, state, and ZIP code
- Check the “Head of household” box
- On Step 3 of the form, fill the fields in according to the type of dependent you have. Since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, you may claim $2,000 per qualifying child and $500 per other dependent.
- Fill in the details in Step 2 and Step 4 according to your status
- Sign and date the form on Step 5 and leave the fields reserved for your employer blank
Example: You are unmarried, your yearly income is $45,000, and you live with your 14-year-old daughter. Because your dependent has no income, you paid 100% of the household’s upkeep costs, meaning you qualify as a head of household. Because your daughter is a qualifying child, and you have no additional credits, when filling out Step 3 of Form W-4, you must enter $2,000 in the “qualifying children” field, $0 in the “other dependents” field, and $2,000 in the “add the amounts” field.
How to Fill Out W-4 as a Head of Household with 2 Dependents
The steps required to fill out Form W-4 as a head of household with two dependents are similar to those with a single dependent. The only difference is ensuring you fill in the correct details in Step 3 of the form.
Example: You are an unmarried person with a yearly income of $77,000 living with two family members: your 13-year-old son and your 72-year-old father, both of whom reside at your house and have lived there the entire year. The household’s total yearly upkeep costs were $3,900 (about $325 per month). Your father has a gross income of $3,500 and contributed $1,000 (26%), whereas you contributed $2,900 (74%). You have no additional credits.
These conditions satisfy the requirements to file as a head of household; your son is a qualifying child, whereas your father is a qualifying dependent. When filling out Step 4 of Form W-4, you must enter the following details:
- As you have one qualifying child, enter $2,000 in the “qualifying children” field.
- As you have one qualifying “other dependent,” enter $500 in the “other dependents” field.
- Enter $2,500 in the “add the amounts” field.
How to Fill Out W-4 as a Head of Household with 3+ Dependents
When filling out your Form W-4 as a head of household with three or more dependents, you must ensure all the information and details provided in Step 3 of your Form W-4 are correct, just as you would if you had two dependents or fewer.
Heads of households with large numbers of dependents likely have one or more of both types listed on the form (both qualifying children and other dependents). If this applies to you, ensure each one is correctly reflected in Step 3.
Example: You are an unmarried person with a yearly income of $102,000 living with three children: a 9-year-old son, a 16-year-old son, and a 22-year-old daughter enrolled as a full-time university student. Although your 22-year-old daughter is over the age of 19, she is a full-time student, which raises the age limit to 24. In other words, she is still a qualifying child. All three of your children live at your address full-time, except when attending their respective schools. You have no additional credits.
- These conditions satisfy the requirements to file as a head of household; all three of your children are qualifying children. When filling out Step 4 of Form W-4, you must enter the following details:
- In the “qualifying children” field, multiply the number of qualifying children by $2,000. If you have three, enter $6,000.
- You have no qualifying “other dependents;” therefore, you must enter $0 in the “other dependents” field.
- Enter $6,000 in the “add the amounts” field.
How to Fill Out W-4 as a Head of Household with Multiple Jobs
Step 2 of Form W-4 is reserved for two specific cases: married couples filing jointly where both spouses are working and heads of household working multiple jobs. In the latter case, you will need to fill out one Form W-4 for each job, as each one is tied to, and must be signed by, its respective employer.
If you work a single job, you can fill out Form W-4 without completing Step 2, as it is reserved for taxpayers holding two or more jobs. Follow these steps to fill out your Form W-4 as a head of household:
- Enter your personal information in Step 1 and check the Head of Household box.
- Skip Step 2.
- Fill out the fields in Step 3 according to the number of qualifying dependents living with you, plus any qualifying tax credits. Qualifying dependents include children for which you can claim child tax credit and non-child dependents.
- If you have any income, not from jobs, enter the amount you want to be withheld from this income in Field 4(a).
- If you expect to claim extra deductions other than the standard deductions, use the Deductions Worksheet on Page 3 to calculate the amount and enter the result in Field 4(b).
- If you wish to withhold additional income from each pay period, enter the amount in Field 4(c).
- Sign and date the form and leave the fields reserved for your employer blank.
If you have two jobs, the form allows you to check the (c) box in Step 2 of each Form W-4 you file. The IRS recommends checking the box if:
- One of the two jobs pays less than the other
- The pay in the lower-paying job is more than half of the pay in the higher-paying job.
If you do not meet these recommendations, the IRS recommends filling out the Multiple Jobs Worksheet on Page 3 of the form instead. If one or both of your jobs are self-employment occupations, read the instructions on Page 2.
Example: A head of household has two occupations: a primary job as a teacher in a high school establishment and a second job as a bartender to supplement their income. They make $55,000 a year as a teacher and $29,000 a year as a bartender, for a total combined yearly income of $84,000. As the secondary occupation is more than half the pay of the primary occupation, this taxpayer must check the box in Step 2(c).
If you work three or more jobs, leave the box unchecked in Step 2(c) of each Form W-4. Instead, you’ll need to fill out Parts 2, 3, and 4 of Form W-4 Step 2(b) (Multiple Jobs Worksheet). You will find five fields to fill out: 2a, 2b, 2c, 3, and 4. Below are the steps to fill each field out correctly.
Filling out Field 2a
- First, determine the annual wages at your highest-paying job and your second-highest-paying job.
- Look up the tables on Page 4 of Form W-4, using the annual wages at your second-highest job as the lower paying job.
- Check the value corresponding to the intersection of your higher and lower paying jobs in the Head of Household table, then enter the amount in Field 2a.
Filling out Field 2b
- Add together the wages of your two highest-paying jobs and use the result as the higher paying job.
- Use the third job’s annual wages as your lower paying job.
- Look up the tables on Page 4 of Form W-4.
- Check the value corresponding to the intersection of your higher and lower paying jobs.
- Enter the amount in Field 2b.
Filling out Field 2c
- Simply add the amounts entered in Fields 2a and 2b and enter the result in Field 2c.
Filling out Fields 3 and 4
- Fill out Field 3 with the number of pay periods per year for your highest-paying job; 52 if weekly, 26 if bi-weekly, 12 if monthly, etc.
- Divide the value entered in Field 2c by the value entered in Field 3.
Example: A head of household has three occupations, with annual wages of $42,000, $27,000, and $12,000, for a combined total of $81,000. When filling out the Multiple Jobs Worksheet, they will need to complete the following steps:
- Field 2a: The highest-paying job nets an annual taxable wage of $42,000, whereas the second-highest-paying job is $27,000. Because the intersecting value in the Head of Household table is 3,130, they must enter $3,130 in Field 2a.
- Field 2b: The annual wages for the two highest-paying jobs combined are $69,000, whereas those of the third job are $12,000. The corresponding intersecting value on the table is 3,700, meaning they must enter $3,700 in Field 2b.
- Field 2c: The amount to enter is equal to the values entered in Fields 2a and 2b added together: $3,130 + $3,700, or $6,830.
- Field 3: The highest-paying job pays the head of household monthly, meaning the value to enter into this field is 12.
- Field 4: The value to enter here is equal to $6,830 divided by 12 and rounded to the nearest cent: $569.17.
Let’s walk through how to approach a few common situations a W-4 filer may face.
How to Fill Out W-4 if Head of Household but Also a Student
If you are required to fill out a W-4 and qualify as both a head of household and a student, you should fill out the form as a head of household. Being a student does not exempt you from federal taxes, so you must fill out the W-4 if you are eligible.
How to Fill Out W-4 if Head of Household and Want a Maximum Refund
If you want the maximum refund on your W-4, use line 4(c) to withhold an extra amount from your paycheck. This will result in your receiving a larger refund later on.
How to Fill Out W-4 if Head of Household and Pregnant
You may only file as head of household if you have a dependent. A child only counts as a dependent after it is born. If you are pregnant in 2022, but the child is not born until 2023, the child can only be listed as a dependent in 2023, after which you can claim a child tax credit.
Here are the answers to some common questions about correctly filing form W-4 with a HOH status.
No, you must have a qualifying dependent to file as head of household and mark your W-4 as head of household.
Yes, if they are considered unmarried even if not divorced or legally separated, and they file a separate tax return and pay for over 50% of the home.
Yes, you can change your W-4 filing status any time during the year.
If you do not correctly fill out a W-4 form as head of household, you may have too little tax withheld from your paycheck, which could result in owing a large amount of taxes at the end of the year. If you do not claim the correct number of allowances, you may be subject to penalties and interest charges on unpaid taxes.
If your employer withholds the wrong amount, review that your W-4 form is correct. Communicate with your employer if you find an error so they can adjust your withholding. If they continue to withhold the incorrect amount, consult with a tax professional because you will still be responsible for any taxes owed at the end of the year, including penalties and interest charges.
Some states use the federal tax code as a starting point for their state income tax laws and will generally recognize head of household status for state tax purposes resulting in you paying less taxes.
Yes, if the child lives in your home for over half of the year, you may claim head of household.