How to File your Income Tax Return Without Your W2

by Victoria Lee Blackstone ; Updated March 15, 2018
It is possible to file a tax return without a copy of your W-2.

Your employer is responsible for providing a vital piece to your tax-return puzzle by issuing you Form W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement.” Without this form, you won’t have the information you need to file your tax return, and your anticipated refund may seem unreachable. A double whammy is that if you don’t file your return because your W-2 is missing, you’re staring a penalty fee in the face. This seemingly complex dilemma is easily resolved by filing a substitute form in place of your W-2.

Filing a Tax Return Without a W-2

IRS Form 4852, “Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement,” serves as a placeholder for a missing Form W-2. Using your last pay stub or earnings statement from the previous tax year, estimate as closely as possible the tax information that should be on your W-2, and transfer these figures to Form 4852. Attach Form 4852 to your tax return, and submit it before the tax filing deadline. You can download Form 4852 from the IRS website at IRS.gov.

Your Employer's Issuing Time Frame

You may feel a sense of urgency to file your tax return as soon as the calendar turns to a new year. However, you must first allow time for your employer to provide your W-2 before the IRS issuing deadline of January 31. Although employers may have W-2s ready before this date, they are allowed the entire month of January to produce them. Even if your employer is no longer in business, you’ll have to wait until the first week of February to see if you receive your W-2. If you don’t, call your employer to check the delivery status.

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Call the IRS for Help

Before you automatically file Form 4852 as a substitute for your W-2, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 after February 15, and a representative will contact your employer on your behalf to request the missing W-2. If you receive the W-2 before the tax filing deadline, you won’t have to file Form 4852, and it may also prevent your having to file another form to correct your tax return. If the filing deadline is looming, go ahead and file Form 4852 so you don’t run the risk of missing the deadline and paying a penalty.

Correcting Your Tax Return

If you receive a copy of your W-2 after you have attached Form 4852 to your filed tax return, you can correct any mistakes to the estimated figures you submitted using Form 1040X, “Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.” You can also download this form from IRS.gov.

About the Author

Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper articles. After studying botany and microbiology at Clemson University, Blackstone was hired as a University of Georgia Master Gardener Coordinator. She is also a former mortgage acquisition specialist for Freddie Mac in Atlanta, GA.

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