Even before the New Year’s Day holiday is only a memory, you may be celebrating another event – the receipt of your anticipated tax refund. Before you can start spending that refund, however, you’ll have to complete and submit your tax return. You may have pencil and calculator in hand ready to prepare your tax return, but you have to wait for a key piece of paperwork: Form W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement." This form, which your employer provides, is essential for completing your tax return if you receive wages or a salary. The date by which you should receive a W-2 form has some latitude, depending on your employer’s method of issuing it. But the IRS imposes a January 31 deadline by which employers must furnish this form to their employees, either by mailing it or giving it directly to employees.
Your W-2 form should be mailed by your employer before or on January 31st. Depending on where the employer is located, you should receive your W-2 several business days later.
Getting a W-2 Early
You can get your W-2 early. Many taxpayers receive their W-2 forms before the end of January, simply because their employers have them ready before the issuing deadline. Some employers provide W-2 forms directly to employees at the workplace, sometimes in the envelope with a paycheck or pay stub, and other employers mail these forms, which delays the receipt somewhat. For a heads-up, you can ask your employer when W-2s are issued, and whether the employer provides them directly or mails them.
Getting a W-2 Late
The January 31 deadline is the date by which your employer must mail a W-2 to you, not the date by which you must receive the form. When employers mail W-2s, they can be postmarked as late as January 31. If your employer mails the forms on this date, allow the U.S. Postal Service sufficient time to deliver your W-2. This means you should receive your W-2 no later than some time during the first week in February.
Check With Your Employer
If you haven’t received your W-2 by the end of the first week in February, check with your employer to find out when the form was mailed, and confirm your mailing address. You can ask your employer if you can get a copy of your W-2 at your place of business, which will be quicker than waiting for a copy to be mailed. If your employer mails a second copy, wait until February 15 before taking the next step.
When to Call the IRS
If you’ve contacted your employer in early February to request your W-2, and you still don’t have your W-2 by February 15, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS will contact your employer and request a W-2 for you. You’ll need to give the IRS some identifying information when you call, including: your name, address, phone number and Social Security number; your employer’s name, address and phone number; your dates of employment; and an estimate of the yearly tax your employer withheld.
Meet the Tax Filing Deadline
Even if you haven’t received your W-2 by the tax-filing deadline, you’re still required to file your tax return. Attach Form 4852, “Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement,” to your return. Fill out this form by estimating your wage and tax information the best you can. A look at your last pay stub for the tax year will help you estimate these figures. It’s okay if your figures aren’t exact, because you can correct any errors by filing Form 1040X, “Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return,” when you receive your W-2.
Victoria Lee Blackstone was formerly with Freddie Mac’s mortgage acquisition department, where she funded multi-million-dollar loan pools for primary lending institutions, worked on a mortgage fraud task force and wrote the convertible ARM section of the company’s policies and procedures manual. Currently, Blackstone is a professional writer with expertise in the fields of mortgage, finance, budgeting and tax. She is the author of more than 2,000 published works for newspapers, magazines, online publications and individual clients.