By Kay Bell
A Form W-2 is crucial to completing a tax return for most taxpayers who have wage or salary-paying jobs. W-2s are required from employers when you earn $600 or more for the year. This wage and income statement from your employer, or employers if you have more than one job, lists your annual wages and the amount of taxes withheld during the year.
The information on the W-2, which also typically includes your employer's tax identity number and address, helps the Internal Revenue Service verify what you enter on your Form 1040.
You should get a separate W-2 for each wage-paying job you hold in a year.
But what do you do if you lose or never get a W-2?
1. Wait for Jan. 31.
While some companies are quick to issue W-2s, employers aren't required by law to mail or otherwise provide you the document until January 31. If that date hasn't arrived yet, be patient.
However, if you're still waiting on a W-2 when February rolls around, try contacting your company's payroll office.
If it was issued and has gotten lost - or you never received it - ask for another copy. If your employer is using the postal service to mail your W-2, make sure the company has your correct mailing address.
To help make things easier in the future, if you ever move during the year, let your former and/or current employer know so that your tax document will go to the correct address. You can do this by contacting your human resources or payroll office.
And if your W-2 hasn't been sent yet, let the company's payroll office know you're waiting on it to file your taxes.
2. Call the IRS.
You’ve touched base with your employer, but February is almost over and you're still without your W-2. Now it's time to get Uncle Sam involved.
The IRS says to wait until after Feb. 23 and then, if still without a W-2, call the tax agency at 800-829-1040. Before dialing, have on hand:
- Your name, address, Social Security number and phone number;
- Your employer's name, address and phone number;
- The dates you worked for the company; and
- An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld last year. This usually can be found on your final pay stub for the tax year you are filing for.
Armed with this information, the IRS will notify your boss, urging the company to send you your tax form.
3. File anyway.
January came and went and no W-2. You called the IRS. February is almost over and still no W-2. Now what?
You should plan to file your tax return on time even if you don't have a W-2, and estimate your wages and the amount of taxes that were withheld as best as you can.
If you can’t file by the due date (which is April 18 for 2017), ask for an extra six months with Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You can also e-file a request for more time for free with IRS Free File.
If you miss the filing deadline without having requested an extension, you'll be subject to potential penalties and interest on any unpaid tax.
It may be better to file your return based on the latest information you have available and then amend it as needed by filing Form 1040X, rather than face potential penalties and interest for filing after the deadline without an extension, or prolonging the process with an extension.
In place of your missing W-2, you can use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. This form allows you to assemble information that would otherwise be found on your W-2.
Find the final pay stub of the year, which you used when you called the IRS. Use it to fill in your employer's information, including the company's employer identification number and the amount of tax shown as withheld for the full year.
Send Form 4852 along with your tax return. However, instead of attaching it to the front of the first page of your 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ) as you would a W-2, attach it to the back of your income tax return, before any supporting forms or schedules.
4. If necessary, amend your taxes.
What happens if you filed using Form 4852 — and then your W-2 arrived?
Compare the two documents. If the official information on the W-2 is different from what you entered on your Form 4852, file an amended return.
Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to make the change. Form 1040X essentially replaces the tax return you filed previously, changing your original filing to include the new information.
For example, let’s say that when you originally filed with Form 4852 using pay stub data, your annual income was $35,000. When your W-2 finally arrived, however, it also included the $500 bonus you received.
To amend this, you’d enter the original $35,000 wage amount, the $500 difference between that amount and the correct amount, and $35,500 as the amended correct amount in the Income and Deductions section of Form 1040X.
You’ll also attach the new W-2 to the Form 1040X and fill out the remainder of the form, as applicable.
Even if the changes on the 1040X mean you'll owe more taxes, you should file the amended return. You should file Form 1040X as soon as you get the correct information.
This may help avoid interest and penalty charges, as the IRS may determine your original inaccuracies in the tax return once they receive the copy of your W-2 from your employer.
5. Act promptly.
Regardless of which earnings statements you are expecting, keep an eye on the calendar and your mailbox.
If you don't get a W-2 or other tax statement that you need to file your return, contact the issuer soon after the date that the form should have been sent to you.
Delays in getting these documents could affect your ability to file your taxes on time.
About the Author: Kay Bell has been a dedicated tax geek for two decades. The award-winning journalist, book author and creator of the Don't Mess With Taxes blog is a native Texan (that explains her blog's name). She's also an avid sports fan, so when she's not delving into the Internal Revenue Code, she's sorting through the performance stats of her Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Washington Capitals and Dallas Cowboys. Connect with her on Twitter @taxtweet.
Disclaimer: We know taxes are complicated, so we provide this information for general educational purposes only. It isn’t intended to be personalized legal, financial or tax advice, and we don’t guarantee the accuracy, completeness or reliability of this content. If you have questions about your personal tax situation, consider contacting an accountant, tax attorney or financial advisor. Come back to Credit Karma Tax when you’re ready to file your taxes for free!