The Internal Revenue Service keeps W-2 information for 10 years. You have the option of requesting either Form W-2 as part of an entire tax return or W-2 information as part of a transcript. Complete W-2 information is not available until the year after it is filed with the IRS. As a result, 2012 tax information filed in 2013 may not be accessible until 2014.
Tax Return Copies with W-2 Attachments
To obtain a copy of your prior-year W-2, you must order a copy of your entire tax return. The W-2 will be one of the attachments. Complete and mail Form 4506, "Request for Copy of Tax Return." As of 2014, the fee for this service was $50. There is no online service to order a copy of your return.
Tax Return Transcripts
Tax return transcripts are usually all you need for mortgage and loan applications. These include W-2 information and are available free of charge. To get a prior-year transcript, use the IRS' online "Get Transcript" service (see Resources); call 800-908-9946; or complete and mail Form 4506-T, "Request for Transcript of Tax Return."
Catherine Lovering has written about business, tax, careers and pets since 2006. Lovering holds a B.A. (political science), LL.B. (law) and LL.L. (civil law).