How to Estimate Your W-2

by Tara Thomas ; Updated March 16, 2018

It happens. You’ve misplaced your W-2, or your employer hasn’t sent it out yet, and you need to file your return. The first step is to take a deep breath and relax. If you find yourself without your W-2 at tax time, the IRS provides a way for you to file your return without it. However, if you need only to estimate your possible tax obligation or refund you can expect from Uncle Sam, you can do that, too.

Estimating Your W-2 Using a Pay Stub

After you remove your check from its stub, chances are you don’t give it a second look. But, in this instance, your paycheck stub might be the difference between filing your taxes late – possibly incurring penalties – and getting your return in on time. To estimate your W-2 from a pay stub, locate your last pay stub of the year. Every pay stub has your current and year-to-date, or YTD, totals for deductions and taxes withheld. Your last pay stub will have YTD totals that include everything you earned and all taxes deducted for the entire year, just like your W-2.

Look for the YTD gross wages on your pay stub. This figure represents the total amount of wages you were paid for the year, before any deductions were subtracted. Next, locate your YTD deductions that are exempt from federal taxes. These can vary, depending upon your state and local tax liability as well as any retirement plans you may be enrolled in, such as 401(k) contributions, section 125 cafe plans and group life insurance premiums.

Then, subtract your YTD deductions from your YTD wages. The amount you have left over is your AGI, or adjusted gross income, which determines your tax rate and eligibility for certain tax credits. It is worth noting that this will likely not be an exact figure. Your federal taxable income, takes into account your number of exemptions and whether you itemize or take the standard deduction. However, this will provide you with a rough estimate of your AGI.

What To Do if Your W-2 Never Arrives

In case you do not receive a W-2 in a timely manner, contact your employer to make sure your mailing address and personal information is correct. If you still do not receive your W-2 by late February, contact the IRS. The IRS will contact your employer on your behalf to locate your W-2 and get him to send you another copy.

In the meantime, you can use IRS Form 4852, "Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement," to estimate your wages. Form 4852 is a simple, one-page form that walks you through calculating your federal taxable wages based on your last pay stub. Keep in mind that you cannot e-file Form 4852, so you will have to print a copy of your tax return,attach Form 4852 and mail it to the IRS. When you do receive your W-2, be sure to double-check the amount you reported when you filed against the figures on your W-2. In the event you notice any errors, you may need to file an amended return using IRS Form 1040X, "Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return."

About the Author

Tara Thomas is a Los Angeles-based writer and avid traveler. Her articles appear in various online publications, including Sapling, PocketSense, Zacks, Livestrong, Modern Mom and SF Gate. She began her writing career in college authoring grant proposals for a Southern California marine science laboratory, which helped her develop a lifelong passion for environmentalism. She has a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from California State University, Long Beach. Thomas is also an event consultant/planner, spent 10 years as a mortgage consultant and enjoys writing on the subjects of travel and personal finance.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article