Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Murray State chapter.

Some of the first steps in getting a “big kid” job will include filling out various forms and paperwork. W-2s and W-4s are two very common tax forms you may or may not have already seen. If you’re like me, your mom probably told you what to fill in and write down, basically doing it for you. Well, in this week’s Adulting with Abby, we’ll talk about the differences and uses of the two forms, so hopefully next time you’re handed one, you don’t have to call up your mom in front of your employer.

The Difference

The W-4 will come before the W-2. A W-4 is an input document the hiring company requires right off the bat. It is filled out before your payroll can begin, becuase it tells the company how much tax to withhold from your paycheck.

The W-2 will be seen at the end of the year. These forms are output documents. They summarize your gross pay for the year. It shows how much was taken from your paycheck and put towards state taxes, local taxes, deductions, etc.

Important Terms

  • Withholding: the amount your employer sends to the government each pay period, is determined by the number of allowances you mark on the W-4

  • Allowance: claiming allowances depends on several factors like marital status, children, number of jobs, etc. The more allowances you claim=less withheld from your paycheck. For instance, if you only claim yourself, you will get more taken out of your paycheck for federal income tax. Visit this website for more examples and a deeper explanation.

  • Deductions: an amount or expenses subtracted from your income that cannot be taxed, such as charitable donations. Filing status, age, claimed as dependent or independent and other factors determine the amount of deductions.

  • Exempt: reduces your obligation to pay taxes. You can claim as “exempt” or “not exempt.” However, many factors go into each. You could be exempt if you don’t make a certain amount of money, but filing as exempt might not always be the best choice. Being exempt only means you will not have to pay federal income tax; you will still get Social Security and Medicare taxes taken out of your paycheck.

  • Filing status: stating if you’re single, married (joint or separate), head of household, qualifying widower, etc.

Art by Dave Granlund

The Process

For a W-4, there are three different worksheet that need to be calculated and filled out. The worksheets are: personal allowances, deductions/adjustments and two earners/multiple jobs. Information for each worksheet will be filled out depending on the terms listed above. Not all W-4s are the same, and states can vary in their forms and what they require to be filled out.

While you’re the person to fill out a W-4 and turn it into your employer, on the other hand, a W-2 will be filled out and (typically) mailed to you. The W-2 will show how your W-4 was used. It will list your deductions, gross pay, amount withheld, etc.

Taxes is an intricate web that can be difficult to weave. Make sure you fill out your forms honestly and to the best of your knowledge. If you have any questions or concerns, ASK. The consequences for fraud or lying on tax forms can result anywhere between outstanding fines or even jail time. Explore your options, and don’t be afraid to use or contact a tax or financial advisor.

Abby Branham

Murray State

Abby is a journalist, cheerleader, travel enthusiast and fitness junkie. She is an avid believer of settling for nothing less than what makes you happy. Abby's life motto is a quote by Jack Kerouac: "Be in love with your life. Every minute of it."