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    How do I interpret my check stub?

    While your year-end W-2 form only reports what is required by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), your check stub can reveal a wealth of other information.

    Tax-free benefits

    Most tax-free travel benefits you receive are not reported on the W-2, but they can be found on your check stub. The difference between your total compensation and your "taxable income" will always net to your paid tax-free benefits.

    The only tax-free benefits missing from your check stub will be those that are "in kind." An example of this concept is the fair market value (FMV) of tax-free lodging received. It should only be reported if you are not eligible for tax-free benefits, making the lodging taxable.

    For each new assignment, review your first check stub to confirm that you are receiving tax-free benefits, if eligible, and make sure that all of your benefits are taxable if you are not eligible. Another tip: Make a habit of retaining your final check stub from each assignment, which will show your total taxable and tax-free compensation.

    Filing status and exemptions

    When reviewing your first check stub at each new assignment, take time to confirm your filing status and exemptions, too. If you are single, and only working one job, then single with one exemption should provide sufficient tax withholding to meet your tax liability.

    More important, determine the percentage of tax that is withheld to your taxable income. Depending on your taxable income, you should probably see a minimum of 10% federal withholding. Keep in mind that it's easier to pay as you go and receive a refund than it is to owe come tax time.

    By taking a close look at your check stubs, you can make any necessary adjustments at the beginning of your assignment, better manage finances, and reduce the likelihood of any surprises.

    The preceding discussion is general in nature, and should not be considered advice for any individual tax situation. You should consult with your personal tax planning professional for specific guidance relating to your unique circumstances.