Can I File Exempt & Still Get a Tax Refund?

Tax Refunds, Taxes 101 Two Businessmen Coworking

The IRS issues tax refunds when you pay more tax during the year than you actually owe. When you file exempt with your employer for federal tax withholding, you do not make any tax payments during the year. Without paying tax, you do not qualify for a tax refund unless you qualify to claim a refundable tax credit, like the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The tax law requires your employer to withhold federal income tax from each paycheck you receive and send it to the IRS on a quarterly basis. At tax time, your employer provides you with a W-2 Form that reports the total amount of taxes withheld during the year. When you sit down to do your taxes, if your tax liability is less than the total amount withheld, the IRS will send you a tax refund for the difference.

Generally, if you are self-employed and expect to owe $1,000 or more, you are required to make income tax payments every three months throughout the year.

Filing exempt from withholding

When you start a job, your employer will ask you to fill out IRS Form W-4. The W-4 estimates your personal allowances so you can tell your employer the amount that should be withheld from each paycheck based on the tax information you provide. To claim an exemption from withholding, you must meet certain criteria. If you had even $1 of tax liability in the prior year or anticipate earning income in excess of the sum of your standard deduction, you cannot be exempt from federal tax withholding in the current year.

For example, if you file as single on your 2018 taxes, you must not anticipate earning income in excess of the new standard deduction $12,000. If you still claimed exempt from withholding and earn income in excess of this amount, you will probably have some tax liability unless you qualify for refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit.

Claiming allowances on the W-4

If you are unable to claim exempt from withholding, you can still reduce the amount that is withheld from each paycheck by claiming allowances on your W-4. The more deductions you anticipate claiming at the end of the year, the more allowances you can take. These allowances are based on your filing status, the itemized deductions you anticipate claiming such as mortgage interest, state property taxes and medical expenses. The TurboTax W-4 withholding calculator can easily help you figure out your withholding allowances.

Refundable tax credits

A refundable tax credit means that even if you have zero tax liability before claiming the tax credit, you may still get a tax refund. Refundable tax credits not only reduce federal taxes you owe, but they also could result in a tax refund even if the tax credit is more than the tax you owe. For example, the American Opportunity Tax Credit that covers certain higher education expenses is 40 percent refundable and the Earned Income Tax Credit is fully refundable so if you are eligible for these tax credits you may see a tax refund even if you paid no income tax for the year.

Don’t worry about figuring any of this out. TurboTax will ask you simple questions and give you the tax deductions and credits you are eligible for based on your answers. If you still have questions, you can connect live via one-way video to a TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent and get your tax questions answered from the comfort of your couch. A TurboTax Live tax expert can even review, sign, and file your tax return.

Comments (188) Leave your comment

  1. Hi all. I had my son (first child) December 11th. I was told I could claim him. Did everything through turbo tax, but when my return came back, any credits for my son that I tried to recieve was not included. Then I got mail from the Irs, asking me to prove he’s my dependent (proof of address birth cert etc) I sent it in. When should I expect the rest of my return? They said 6-9 months, but would it be sooner than that? I was told my tax refund would be here in 21 days, but I received in in 11.

    Oh and this return’s for Connecticut.

  2. I’m going to receive a bonus check and I want all the money now can I change my withholding to exempt for this one pay check. I always get over 10,000 back on from refunds check. I’m planning on sell and buying a house this year and moving out of state.

  3. If i made 13.50 per hour on a job working atleast 12 hours a day and was told I wasn’t allowed to file exempt but was placed in job system s4 and exempt s2 and exempt and worked at the job from 2012 til Nov 2013 but never,printed check stubs off computer so never knew I wasn’t getting cut is this possible and will i be penalize for it

  4. How can I file an exemption for my wife? We are legally married, she’s from another country but has no SS.

    How can I claim her on my taxes?

    According to IRS.Gov

    Separate return. If you file a separate return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if your spouse had no gross income, is not filing a return, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer. . This is true even if the other taxpayer does not actually claim your spouse as a dependent. You can claim an exemption for your spouse even if he or she is a nonresident alien; in that case, your spouse must have no gross income for U.S. tax purposes, must not be filing a return, and must not be the dependent of another taxpayer.

  5. How can I file an exemption for my wife? We are legally married, she’s from another country but has no SS.

    How can I claim her on my taxes?

    According to IRS.Gov

    Separate return. If you file a separate return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if your spouse had no gross income, is not filing a return, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer. . This is true even if the other taxpayer does not actually claim your spouse as a dependent. You can claim an exemption for your spouse even if he or she is a nonresident alien; in that case, your spouse must have no gross income for U.S. tax purposes, must not be filing a return, and must not be the dependent of another taxpayer.

  6. I filed a w-4 with my company when I started and claimed 0, I just got my w-2 and they say I claimed exempt. Don’t you need paperwork to qualify for exempt status? Also I never wrote down or checked the exempt box and it’s unchecked on my w-4. Now I owe the IRS over 1000. Can this be fixed? Is the company liable for the filing mistake? I am just a regular retail manager, no special tax breaks that I qualify for. Please any information would be appreciated

  7. I have had federal taxes taken out on every paycheck of mine. But when I just got my w2 it shows that no federal income taxes have been held. Why is that?

    1. Hi Alissa,
      You need to check with your employer or payroll provider to see what they show on your W-4. They must have you claiming exempt. You need to change your exemptions if you need to have taxes taken out.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  8. IS THERE A GRACE PERIOD FOR GOING EXEMPT LIKE 3 MONTHS THEN CAN U CHANGE YOUR FILING STATUS AND BY DOING THIS U WON’T BE PENALIZED BY THIS METHOD WILL U??????

    1. Hi Jackie,
      There is no time limit, but you cannot claim exempt if you owed money last year and you expect to owe this year.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  9. I been working since June of 2013 & I been exempt every since I started & I think I grossed over 9,500 can I still get a tax return

  10. I had federal income taxes coming out of my paycheck all year. On 11/29/13, I changed my status with my employer to exempt. At the end of the year, I’m still exempt from federal taxes, but I still had federal taxes come out of my paycheck for the majority of the year. Will I still get a tax return for all of the federal taxes I’ve already paid from 1/1/2013-11/29/2013?

  11. For years I’ve claimed enough allowances so no taxes were taken out and then under additional with holding I would pay a flat amount. Late in the year I would estimate fairly accurately my tax liability and adjust my additional with holding accordingly.

    Before I did this, one year I would get a large refund the next year I would owe a large amount.

    Recently received a letter from the irs saying they instructed my employer to only allow me zero allowances and they are threatening to fine me for claiming too many allowances.

    I’ve never under paid enough to be penalized, most years I receive a small refund.

    Do I wait to see if they fine me, or approach them and explain–can they even legally fine me if they get their money before year end.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks

  12. Im filling out my new job app, I have 2 kids ! 16 and 10. The 16 just stared work in sept, The 10 yr old is on ssi. What should file for? excempt or not?

  13. I have been working since the beginning of the year.. Im on pace to make around 41k for the year.. I have filed exempt since the beginning of the year. I have now changed both state and FED to 1.. I started this the beginning of September.. Will I be ok?

      1. Hi Lisa ,

        I made close to 22,000, But claimed 9 more than half the year, 480 was taked out for taxes, will i be able to get a refund?

      2. Hi Turbo. I owed $247 last year taxe and just paid it off this month. Can I now file an exempt for 3 months without being penalized? Please help. Thanks

      3. Hi Joy,
        Congratulations on paying the amount you owed off. You can file exempt, but whether you will owe or not depends on your income, tax liability, and tax deductions and credits you’re eligible for. Without knowing those exact numbers I don’t know if you will owe. You can try TurboTax TaxCaster to get an estimate of your tax situation https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/calculators/taxcaster/
        Thank you,
        Lisa Greene-Lewis

  14. can i claim exempt for 2 months and file single for remainder of year without getting penalized for the 2 months of exempt? is it true that i can file exempt for 2-4 months and single the rest of the year and claim single when i go to file taxes?

  15. I have been claiming ‘0’ on my W-4 for the last two years and I have been receiving a refund each year that I filed taxes. This year, the taxes have been eating away $400-$550 each pay period (the most I’ve ever seen). If I file exempt for the last two months of this year, would I owe in taxes or will I be fine?

  16. I only claim myself on my taxes they’ve been taking taxes out every 2 weeks since feb 14 I filled exempt today I only worked 3 weeks last year is that ok?

  17. I only claim myself on my taxes they’ve been taking taxes out every 2 weeks since feb 14 I filled exempt today I only worked 3 weeks last year is that ok?

  18. I was told that I can file exempt for six months is that true? And also im legally separated even when married I was head of househol so can I just file for myself as single?

    1. I made 2600 dollars a year and I claim nine people on my federal taxes on my paycheck will I receive a refund at the end of this year?

  19. I do adult foster care and am tax exempt. I completely support the client I have been caring for and also have 3 children. Do I file taxes and can I claim my children on my taxes? Not sure if I would get anything back for child credit…

  20. I just filed exempt and I was wondering how it will effect me at tax time ..if I got 6grand back this year does that mean that I will get around 3grand assuming I do this for a month or two ….do I see the money are is it took in the beginning …

  21. Hi I’m wordering what will help me. I claimed exempt like 10 times this year. I’m single can I claim 1 or 0 and will I get a refund? Can I claim head of house hold I live on my own? I estimated making $60,000 this year

  22. Hi i recently had a baby and filed exempt from march til end of august. My husband will be claiming our son since he is head of household and makes more money than me. Will i still owe taxes? So far ive made 12,298$ year to date if that helps.

  23. I was wondering if I can claim exempt… I only have 2 children, head of household and only work for 5 months out the year. I don’t expect to make no more than 10,000 this year. Can I file exempt?

  24. Hi!

    I have been at my job for 1 year now and always filed single. I do have one son. I do file for my son however at my job, i entered in 0 exemptions/allowances. This late in the year (september), could I still change to filing exempt? And since it is so late would I still have to owe taxes? Never had to owe before.

  25. I currently work overseas and pay taxes in Brazil. I receive a tax credit for those taxes that I use with the IRS. After filing I haven’t owed the IRS anything due to my credit. I want to claim exempt in 2014 but do not want to pay the IRS any more then my credit covers at time of filing.

  26. I wanted to file exempt on my W-4 form so no taxes are taking out my check. However I only wanted to go tax exempt for a 3 or 4 paychecks then go back to paying taxes. I understand I will have to pay back that money come tax time. How do I fill out the W-4 form?

  27. I incorrectly filed as exempt from withholding when I filled out my W-4 a week or two ago. I recently realized that I will be making around 7000 or 8000 this year, which is definitely above the withholding exemption range. Is there a penalty for doing this incorrectly? If so, how can I get this corrected?

  28. I live in Maryland and I’m 19 years old and claimed as a dependent.
    Can I work 2 jobs this summer, which would earn an income <$5700, and still not pay federal taxes?
    Someone said that if you work 2 jobs you must pay full taxes, and someone else said I can work as many jobs as I want and as long as I still make less than $5700 I will get money back.
    Any help? Thanks!

  29. I’m a paid intern and my first summer, I had nothing taken out of my checks because I was told to put “0” on my w-4 form. Then, the next summer rolls around and I put “1” on a few of the lines and they started taking out state but not federal. Now, another summer later they’re taking out state and federal. Could I file exempt to receive my full check again w/o any penalties?

  30. Im wondering I haven’t been getting california tax taken out of my paychecks for like 4 months so far I have one child if I file my taxes at the end of the year will I still recive anything back?

    1. Hi Carol,
      It all depends on your income and tax deductions. It’s hard to say without seeing your full situation. Also, state taxes are a little different from federal taxes since with federal you may be eligible for refundable credits(credits you may be eligible for without paying taxes like Earned Income Tax Credits). 4 months may not hurt you, but you may want to start deducting state taxes.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

      1. I only made 26,00 year and I claim nine people on my paycheck. Will i receive a refund at the end of this year ?

  31. I filed Exempt back in January. my son was born in March I didn’t receive any income for 8-9 weeks while I was out on maternity leave. When do I change my W-4 back to 1. My husband is going to claim our son. Would we still receive a refund?

  32. Hello. I just got an internship this summer. I’m a college student and will be only working over the summer for the internship. Is it ok for me to file exempt? I don’t want any taxes taken out because I will not make over 10,000 during the summer. So if I file exempt is it possible I will owe the government money at the end of the year? And lastly, do companies usually allow to you change your W-2 throughout the year? Thank you.

  33. Hi there, I am single with one dependent, should I claim 2 exemptions? The W-4 I filled out had me tax exempt when I checked the box re: being entitled to all of my federal refund and not owing any taxes.

  34. Hello I just recently started at Chrysler and the federal taxes are eating me up I wonder if I filled my W4 out correctly. I take care of my siblings a brother and sister who stay with and I’m single. Do I claim exempt? How many allowances should I have?

  35. i make 9.00 hr paid byweekly
    can i put 3 allowances????
    im single with no kids
    i dont want taking so much from my paycheck
    so i want to put 3 allowances

    i dont want to owe the goverment either..
    am i alright??
    i live in texas if that matters

    1. Hi Daniel – Keep in mind that there are penalties for under-withholding (i.e., owing the IRS too much at tax time). The attached link has more information about claiming allowances. Hope it helps! –Christopher

    1. Hi Rosie – Maybe…did you have earned income? Depending on your income, you may qualify for an Earned Income Credit or the Child Tax Credit. I recommend you go through the Credits and Deductions section in TurboTax. The software will guide you and calculate any tax credits you qualify for automatically after you go through that section. Thanks, Karen

  36. I am in college and work at the college under the work study program. I claim exempt since the money they use to pay me is grant money. Can I still Get a refund?

    1. Hi d.ledsma – Are you the only wage earner in the family? And, can anyone else claim you as a dependent? If not, and you pay for education costs, you may be entitled to an education credit. I recommend you go through the Credits and Deductions section in TurboTax. The software will guide you and calculate any tax credits you qualify for automatically after you go through that section. Thanks, Karen

  37. Hello lisa or chris i made 9172 in 2012, i was exempt from state and federal taxes because i was in school! I am a depenndent my mother claims me. around November i claim zero on state and federal! Will i have too owe, or do i file?

  38. Dear Lisa or Chris,

    I had 3 jobs last year. The first two were about 2.5 months each, and I am single and claimed either 1 or 2 for both, so had taxes taken out. My 3rd job I started in November, also with taxes taken out, except the last 5 weeks of the year (which I worked lots of overtime) and I was paid weekly, I got roughly $960 a week. I have to renew my 2013 w4 exemption this week, I have not yet filed my taxes, should I be ok to still file exempt for a couple more months this year? I would think my first 2 jobs and part of the third one would still entitle me to a refund/balance out the 4 or 5 weeks I was exempt at the tail end of 2012?

  39. I worked as an intern this past summer and the compnay did not with hold federal taxes and now I owe. Is there anyway around this.

  40. Oh, btw. When I started working I completed a w-4 form, it was faxed, and received by the book-keeping office. So, there was a w-4 form submitted and on file.

    1. Hi Sonia – The more withholding you have taken out, the larger your refund will be. There’s no reason why you can’t still file, and you can always submit a new W-4 to your employer to update. In fact, TurboTax will help you complete it. Hope that clarifies! –Christopher

  41. Hi Lisa,

    I started working in August 2012′ and claim 5 (my self, three dependents, and head of household= my 5) on my w-4 form and when I file, and deductions are taken out as usual. I know its my responsibility to check my pay stubs I did but didn’t realize that federal deductions were not being taken out. I did’t realize this until January. I called my employers bookkeeping company and they said that if I wanted federal deductions to be taken out I should have requested it. I was very upset to get this response. Yes, I should have caught this sooner. I will take responsibility for that but I have never had an issue before, I’ve been doing the same thing for the last 12 years. The bookkeeping office still states that there is nothing they can do, and nothing wrong with their program, and if I wanted extra deductions I should have requested it. So, my question is can this be fixed some how? Can I still file? Am I entitled to a refund? Any info will help, thanks.

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