For most Americans, tax season doesn't officially start until W-2 forms arrive in the mail. If you were employed in the previous tax year, it's important to confirm that you've received all the proper documentation related to your W-2s needed to file your taxes by the deadline. Take a look at everything the IRS needs you to know about W-2 forms before you file your taxes this year.
Who Gets a W-2 Form?
You will receive a W-2 if an employer paid you at least $600 during a single tax year. This includes tip-based income. Both the IRS and state will also receive copies of your W-2 from your employer.
What Is a W-2 Form?
A W-2 is a tax form that's provided to an employee by an employer. Employers are actually required by law to provide this documentation to employees. This applies even if you are no longer employed by an employer. Employers are also legally required to provide W-2 forms to employees even if they are no longer in business. Here's what's included on a W-2 form:
- Your gross earnings
- All federal and state taxes that were withheld during the tax year
- All 401(k) deductions
- Contributions to retirement plans
- Employer compensation for health insurance
- Dependent care benefits
Employees do not receive W-2 forms until the end of the year. That's because an employer must record all payment activity up through Dec. 31. However, employers are legally required to send W-2 forms out by January 31 each year. While some employers send out paper forms, others provide electronic copies. It's important to keep an eye out for any notices in your mailbox or email inbox during January because any employer you worked for could be trying to send your W-2 form to you.
What to Do If You Don't Get a W-2 Form
If the end of January comes and goes without a W-2 form arriving from an employer, you'll need to take action. You are not legally excused from filing your taxes just because your employer has failed to send a W-2 form. You must still file your tax return even if your employer does not send you a W-2 on time. However, you may be able to get a copy before the filing deadline.
First, simply contact the employer or human resources department to alert them to the fact that you have not received your W-2 for the previous tax year. The solution may be as simple as getting another copy. The IRS may also be able to help you if the employer is not responsive. You can use Form 4506 from the IRS website to request a transcript of any tax information the IRS has received going back 10 years. However, W-2 information for the most recent year typically isn't available until July. That means you'll need to go ahead and file your taxes by the deadline without having your W-2 available.
If you need to file without your W-2, you can use Form 4852 as a substitute wage and tax statement. Many taxpayers find that using pay stub histories makes it possible to replicate the information that would be provided on a W-2 fairly accurately. You can also consider filing for a tax extension with the IRS. Keep in mind that you'll still need to pay 90 percent of your anticipated tax bill by tax day even if you are granted an extension. While extensions grant you extra time for filing your tax return, they don't provide a buffer for paying taxes that are owed.
How to Use a W-2 Form
What should you do when an employer sends you a W-2 form? First, check the form for errors. Having your pay stubs available for comparison can help you to detect any errors with your W-2. If you do find errors, let your employer or human resources department know right away. Your employer will be required to file something called a W-2c Corrected Wage and Tax Statement with both the IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA). If your employer objects, you must contact the IRS directly to report the situation.
For most people, the information on a W-2 form ultimately determines whether they will be receiving or paying money at tax time. That's because your W-2 lays out how much you were paid versus how much tax you've already paid on your earnings. You'll actually be using the information that's displayed on your W-2 form while you're filing your taxes.
Do Freelancers and Contractors Get W-2 Forms?
No, freelancers and contractors do not get W-2s because W-2 forms are only provided for employees. As of 2020, employers use Form 1099-NEC to report payments to independent contractors. This is actually a change from the Form 1099-MISC that was previously used. While the 1099-MISC is still around, it's now used for miscellaneous income that does not include freelancer and contractor payments.
Read More: What Is Form 1099-NEC?
Can You Get a W-2 and Form 1099-NEC in the Same Year?
Yes, people who work multiple jobs may receive a mix of W-2 and 1099 forms. You must include income from all sources when filing your tax return. If you're confused about how to report various income sources, a tax pro can help you out with general instructions for tax filing when you have multiple tax forms.
The Bottom Line on W-2 Forms
Don't let it get to the middle of February without confirming that you've received your tax forms for the year. While you'll still be required to file your tax return even if your employer doesn't provide your W-2, getting a copy before the tax deadline will make your life easier. The IRS and state taxing authorities will hold you responsible for filing your taxes on time even if your employer hasn't provided you with the forms you need to file.
- IRS: General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3
- IRS: Missing a W-2? Here Is What to Do
- irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-4852 About Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRA's Insurance Contracts, Etc.
- www.irs.gov HomeHelpFrequently Asked QuestionsTranscript or Copy of Form W-2
Adam Luehrs is a writer during the day and a voracious reader at night. He focuses mostly on finance writing and has a passion for real estate, credit card deals, and investing.