Guidance on 2019 Withholding Rules

Robert Oberstein |

The IRS has provided interim guidance for the 2019 calendar year on income tax withholding from wages and withholding from retirement and annuity distributions. In general, certain 2018 withholding rules provided in Notice 2018-14, I.R.B. 2018-7, 353, will remain in effect for the 2019 calendar year, with one exception.

The IRS and the Treasury Department intend to develop income tax withholding regulations to reflect changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97), as well as other changes in the Code since the regulations were last amended, and certain miscellaneous changes consistent with current procedures.

Withholding Allowances
The IRS delayed the release of the 2018 Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, in order to reflect changes made by the TCJA, such as changes in itemized deductions available, increases in the child tax credit, the new credit for other dependents, and the suspension of personal exemption deductions. Notice 2018-14 provided relief for employers and employees affected by the delay.

In June, the IRS released a draft 2019 Form W-4 and instructions, which incorporated changes that were meant to improve the accuracy of income tax withholding and make the withholding system more transparent. However, in response to stakeholders’ comments, the IRS later announced that the redesigned Form W-4 would be postponed until 2020. The IRS intends to release a 2019 Form W-4 before the end of 2018 that makes minimal changes to the 2018 Form W-4.

The 2019 Form W-4 and the computational procedures in IRS Publication 15 (Circular E), Employer’s Tax Guide, will continue to use the term "withholding allowances" and related terminology to incorporate the withholding allowance factors specified in Code Sec. 3402(f) and the additional allowance items in Code Sec. 3402(m). Until further guidance is issued, references to a "withholding exemption" in the Code Sec. 3402 regulations and guidance will be applied as if they were referring to a withholding allowance.

Changes in Status
The guidance provides that if an employee experiences a change of status on or before April 30, 2019, that reduces the number of withholding allowances to which he or she is entitled, and if that change is solely due to the changes made by the TCJA, the employee generally must furnish a new Form W-4 to the employer by May 10, 2019. However, if an employee no longer reasonably expects to be entitled to a claimed number of allowances due to a change in personal circumstances that is not solely related to TCJA changes, the employee must furnish his or her employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days after the change. Similarly, if an employee claims married filing status on Form W-4 but divorces his or her spouse, the employee must furnish the employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days after the change.

Failure to Furnish
The IRS and the Treasury Department intend to withdraw the regulations under Code Sec. 3401(e), and modify other regulations, so that an employee who fails to furnish a Form W-4 will be treated as "single" but entitled to the number of withholding allowances determined under computational procedures provided in IRS Publication 15. Until further guidance is issued, however, employees who fail to furnish a Form W-4 will be treated as single with zero withholding allowances.

Additional Allowances
Until further guidance is issued, a taxpayer may include his or her estimated Code Sec. 199A passthrough deduction in determining whether he or she can claim the additional withholding allowance under Code Sec. 3402(m) on Form W-4.

Alternative Procedure
The IRS and the Treasury Department intend to update the withholding regulations to explicitly allow employees to determine their Form W-4 entries by using the IRS withholding calculator ( or IRS Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, instead of having to complete certain schedules included with the Form W-4. However, the regulations are expected to provide that an employee cannot use the withholding calculator if the calculator’s instructions state that it should not be used due to his or her individual tax situation. The employee will need to use Publication 505 instead.

Alternative Methods
The IRS and the Treasury Department intend to eliminate the combined income tax withholding and employee FICA tax withholding tables under Reg. §31.3402(h)(4)-1(b), due to this alternative procedure’s unintended complexity and burden.

Lock-In Letters
The IRS may issue a "lock-in letter" to an employer, which sets the maximum number of withholding allowances an employee may claim. If the employer no longer employs the employee, the employer must send a written response to the IRS office designated in the lock-in letter that the employee is not employed by the employer. The IRS and the Treasury Department intend to eliminate the written response requirement. Pending further guidance, employers should not send a written response to the IRS under Reg. §31.3402(f)(2)-1(g)(2)(iv).

Pension, Annuity Payments
The payor of certain periodic payments for pensions, annuities, and other deferred income generally must withhold tax from the payments as if they were wages, unless the individual payee elects not to have withholding apply. Before 2018, if a withholding certificate was not furnished to the payor, the withholding rate was determined by treating the payee as a married individual claiming three withholding exemptions. The TCJA amended this rule so that the rate "shall be determined under rules prescribed by the Secretary." The IRS has determined that, for 2019, withholding on periodic payments when no withholding certificate is in effect continues to be based on treating the payee as a married individual claiming three withholding allowances.

Comments Requested
The IRS and the Treasury Department request comments on both the interim guidance and the guidance that should be provided in regulations. Comments must be received by January 25, 2019. Comments should be submitted to: CC:PA:LPD:PR (Notice 2018-92), Room 5203, Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C., 20044. Submissions may be hand-delivered Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to CC:PA:LPD:PR (Notice 2018-92), Courier’s Desk, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20224. Alternatively, taxpayers may submit comments electronically to (include "Notice 2018-92" in the subject line of any electronic submission).