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What to do if you don't have your W-2

W-2 forms_cropped

Most of us who've ever worked for someone else are very familiar with Internal Revenue Service Form W-2.

This is the statement you get early every year to tell you how much you were paid.

Your W-2 also reports the amount of income tax withheld at both federal and, where applicable, state and/or local levels. There also are details on such things as the amount of tax-deferred money went into or you took out of your 401(k), how much your employer paid for your health care coverage and how much help you got from the boss in paying for care of a dependent.

Basically, your W-2 is a synopsis of your annual income, benefits and, of course, taxes.

Taxpayers are well aware that they need this official tax document to file their returns. Even though the IRS gets a copy, your W-2 is one of the few that you actually have to attach, either the paper form or an electronic version if you e-file, to your filing.

But what do you do if you've yet to get your W-2?

When patience runs out: Employers should have sent your W-2 to you by Jan. 31 in order to avoid IRS penalties. That usually means that snail mailed forms arrived by mid-February.

So as frustrating as waiting to file is, especially if you're expecting a refund, the IRS advises patience.

But some companies some are super slow. And folks who get the tax form the old-fashioned way know the U.S. Postal Service also sometimes seems to take its own sweet time.

If, however, you didn't get your W-2 either via mail or electronically by the middle of this month, it's definitely time to take action.

Here are five things you can do to get your W-2 or the information necessary to file.

1. Contact your employer. First, go to the source. Ask your current or former employer for a copy of the missing W-2. Also double-check that your boss or outside company handling your workplace's payroll tasks has your correct address. A mistake there could be why your W-2 went astray.

2. Call the IRS. If by the end of the month your boss still hasn't sent you your W-2 or you discover a former employer has gone out of business and you can't track anyone from there down, it's time to touch base with the IRS.

Call the IRS toll-free at (800) 829-1040 for help getting a substitute W-2. 

But before you dial, make sure you have the following info to give to the IRS to make its follow-up with your employer more effective:

  • Name, address, Social Security number and phone number.
  • Employer's name, address and phone number.
  • Employment dates.
  • Estimate of wages and federal income tax withheld in 2018. You can use your final pay stub for these amounts.

Armed with this information, the IRS will send your boss a letter urging the company to send you your tax form.

3. Recreate your W-2. If despite the IRS urging, your employer still doesn't get you your W-2, it's time to take things into your own hands. Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, can help you, as the form's name says, create a replacement W-2.

Form 4852 substitute with highlighted inset W-2

Use the information you earlier provided the IRS to fill out Form 4852 as completely as you can, making the best estimate you can of your wages and taxes withheld.

4. File on time or ask for more. The tax calendar waits for no filers, W-2 or no W-2. If you're in the no W-2 situation, use your Form 4852 in place of your missing W-2 and file your taxes on time. For most of us this year, that's the usual April 15 due date, although some New England taxpayers get a couple more days.

If you're uncomfortable using the self-made W-2 substitute, you can give yourself more time to file and get the official document by asking for an extension. To get six extra months to submit your return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File, by the April deadline(s).

Electronically inclined filers can e-file a request for more time using tax software or IRS Free File.

Remember though, that the extension is simply more time to fill out your 1040 and other forms. If you owe any tax, you must pay it or a close estimation of the amount you’re your Form 4868.

In tax-due extension instances, the easiest and most efficient method to get more time is to use of the IRS accepted electronic payment options. That way, you'll get a payment confirmation number for your records and won't have to file a separate extension form.

5. Correct your return, if necessary. You didn't get your W-2 so you filed your taxes using Form 4852. Then your W-2 showed up and the official amounts were different from the amounts you estimated.

For example, when you filed using Form 4852, the last pay stub you had on hand showed your annual income as $45,000. But when your W-2 finally arrived, it also included the $1,000 bonus you received. Oops.

In this case, you may need to file an amended tax return. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to make the changes so that your tax return is correct.

Yes, filing a second time is a pain, but correcting your original 1040 is better than hearing from the IRS later about the discrepancies and then owing additional tax and penalties.

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