You’ve probably received a hard copy of an employee’s W-4 before with nearly illegible handwriting.
Do you try and decipher it and open yourself to errors, or ask your employee to verify the information? The best option is to verify the information, but in a pinch you may be tempted to enter the information as you see it.
If an error is made, and you accidentally under withhold an employee’s income tax, a bevy of issues can arise, beginning with tax liability. When you under withhold, money is owed to the federal government. And they will be sure to get it. In some cases this burden falls on the employee - which can result in a very unhappy worker, which is never good for a workplace. In other cases you and your employee can both be responsible for the missing money. The longer the mistake goes unnoticed, and the longer you’re underpaying employee payroll taxes, the bigger the tax penalties. You can be penalized for 100% of the money owed, plus interest as the months and years go by.
When an employer willfully under withholds or evades payroll taxes entirely, the consequences are steep. Knowingly evading taxes is a felony and can result in prison time - up to five years or more, depending on the severity and amount.
Occasionally, the IRS may issue an audit on your company. Should this occur, you will need to present the necessary paperwork - i.e. employee W-4s - when asked. Having illegible forms may arise suspicion with auditors - whether these forms are malicious or not.
If you enter in information from a W-4 incorrectly and realize before the IRS, there are measures you can take to rectify the issue before it snowballs. Typically when a miscalculation of allowances occurs, you would increase the withholding on that person’s paycheck to balance out their withholdings correctly for the year. Then moving forward, you would correct the W-4 and ensure their allowances are correct. Want to avoid issues like these entirely? Read more about how electronic withholding forms can make the W-4 process simple and automatic.