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Here’s How to Breeze Through Your
New-Job Paperwork

By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff

One of the more stressful parts of starting your first adult job has very little to do with the job itself. It’s all that paperwork you have to fill out.

Paperwork is more of an annoyance than anything else; there’s hardly enough writing to cause your hand to cramp up. But it’s your first big job and everything about your first big job is stressful since you want to make a strong first impression.

Here’s a rundown of the paperwork to expect so you can complete it quickly and painlessly.

1. I-9 form

Also known as the Employment Eligibility Verification form, the I-9 must be filled out to prove you’re entitled to work in the U.S.

It looks a little something like this:

Physically filling out the I-9 form is easy; it's providing the necessary documentation to properly identify yourself that can get tricky. If you have your U.S. passport with you, then you’re all set — that’s all you need. However, if you don’t, you’ll need to present two forms of identification with your I-9. Your driver's license and birth certificate is a common example of an acceptable identification pairing.

You can find the full list of acceptable documents here.

Track down these documents before your first day and bring them with you so you can complete the I-9 right away.

2. W-4 form

This form determines how federal taxes will be deducted from your paychecks. For some, this form is pretty intimidating:


The good news is, for most recent grads, it’s pretty easy to fill out. It gets more complicated as you get married, have children, and all that jazz.

The biggest hurdle is line A. The form simply tells you to Enter “1” for yourself. However, you can either enter “0” or “1” here.

You might be asking, Why would I enter “0” when it clearly tells me to enter “1”?

Well, here’s what it boils down to: 


  • When you enter "0": The maximum amount of federal taxes will be taken out of each paycheck. You’ll bring home less in each paycheck, but you’ll get the maximum amount back come tax season. 
  • When you enter "1": The least amount of federal taxes will be taken out of each paycheck. You’ll take home more money in each paycheck, but you’ll get back less come tax season. You may even owe money.

You can always update your W-4. So if you get married, have a child, or experience any other change, you can make the necessary updates.

3. Direct deposit form

Let’s get you paid! Direct deposit electronically wires your paycheck into your bank account every pay period. To fill out the direct deposit form, you’ll need two pieces of information:

  1. Bank account number
  2. Routing number

You can find these numbers on the bottom of any check:

Or, if you don’t have a check with you, both numbers can usually be found through online or mobile banking. Again, by having this information handy on your first day, you can cross this form off your to-do list in a hurry.

Speaking of getting paid, ask HR if you’re an “exempt” or “non-exempt” employee. Exempt employees are paid by yearly salary and are — wait for it — exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws. Meanwhile, non-exempt employees are not exempt from such laws. That means you need to be paid at least minimum wage for every hour you work, plus at least 1.5 times your normal hourly wage for overtime (time that exceeds 40 hours per week).

4. Benefits

Most companies will offer employee benefits, which are discounted (or sometimes free) services. The most common benefits are health insurance and retirement plans.

Should you sign up for your own healthcare plan or stay on your parents’ insurance? Under current law, your parents can keep you on their health insurance plan until you turn 26. Then, the month following your 26th birthday, you’ll need to get your own policy. Have a talk with your parents to figure out if you should remain on their plan or get your own policy.

Compare the variables of each plan your company offers — deductible and deduction per pay period, among others — to find the one that best suits you. Also check out any dental or vision plans that your employer offers.

And don’t forget about retirement benefits. First, find out if your company offers a retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Then, see if the company will match contributions up to a certain percentage of your annual salary. It’s recommended that you meet any matching contribution amount to maximize the “free money” going into your retirement fund. And if you think you’re too young to start saving for retirement, think again.

Other benefits to learn about are life insurance, disability, employee stock plans, and perks like gym or store discounts. You can find out more about your specific options from your HR department.

What to remember

While nobody wants to be that person, don’t be afraid to bug HR with paperwork questions. These forms are a big deal; they’ll dictate how you’re paid, your healthcare coverage, and other important things. Ask that extra question so you can get it right the first time rather than make a mistake that needs correcting later.

And if HR is difficult to contact, ask your new co-workers for their thoughts. Odds are they had the same questions when they joined the company, so they can point you in the right direction.

The sooner you get the onboarding paperwork done, the sooner you can sink your teeth into your new job and start doing what you were hired to do!

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