If you worked for an employer during the year, your W-2 form is vital for doing your taxes, as it contains details on your gross earnings, federal and state taxes withheld during the year, and 401k and other deductions. By law, all employers are required to provide this form to their employees, even if the employer is no longer in business. If you don't get your form, you can usually get a copy from your employer, but if you don't you may have to contact the IRS. Of course, you still have to file your taxes with the IRS with or without that form.
Employers have until January 31st to send out W-2 forms. If you don't get yours in time, you can usually get another copy or contact the IRS.
Employers are required by the IRS to either hand-deliver or mail Form W-2 to all current and former employees by January 31st of the following year. This does not mean that you will necessarily receive it by the 31st. The employer just has to get it into the mail by then. This deadline allows employees ample time to prepare their personal income tax returns. Even employers who have gone out of business must still prepare the forms but may choose to distribute them earlier in the year.
Getting a Form W-2
If you have not received a copy of your Form W-2 by February 15th, the first step to tracking it down is to speak with your employer. Find out if they were handed out or mailed and on what date. Ask your employer for a duplicate copy. If you are not able to contact a former employer or it refuses to issue you a Form W-2, contact the IRS after February 15th with as much information as you have about the employer, including operating and legal name, EIN and address. Provide them with as much information as you can from your pay stubs, such as total gross wages and taxes withheld. If you get close to the tax deadline and still have not received your W-2, use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2 and fill out all of the information from your pay stubs.
Charges for a Duplicate
Occasionally, an employer will charge a nominal amount to issue a duplicate W-2 if an employee has lost or misplaced the original. This is perfectly legal and compensates the employer for the trouble of producing a copy. It also puts the onus on the employee to take care of the form. However, if your employer wants to charge you a large sum of money for the W-2, and you are certain that you did not receive an original, call the IRS to report the situation.
Errors on W-2s
If you review your Form W-2 and find an error when you compare it to your pay stubs or other records, bring the error to the attention of your employer immediately. Make a manual correction on your copy of the W-2 and give that to the employer. It must file a W-2c, Corrected Wage and Tax Statement, with the SSA and the IRS. You cannot simply file what you think the numbers should be if the employer does not provide you with a corrected copy. If the employer refuses to correct the information, call the IRS after February 15th to report the situation.
Angie Mohr is a syndicated finance columnist who has been writing professionally since 1987. She is the author of the bestselling "Numbers 101 for Small Business" books and "Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar." She is a chartered accountant, certified management accountant and certified public accountant with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.