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Dealing with a missing W-2 or using Form 4852 instead

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It's prime tax-filing time! That's not just my observation. The Internal Revenue Service itself says it typically sees a surge in filings in the final two weeks of February.

One of the main reasons for the rush is that folks finally have the tax statements they need.

Most of those documents were required to be issued, or at least in the snail mail, to taxpayers by Jan. 31. Even given U.S. Postal Service delays, it's now been plenty of time for the documents to arrive.

The crucial document for most filers is the W-2 wage statement.

But what if your earnings statement is nowhere to be found.

There are some steps you can take to track it down or get it reissued. If that fails, though, you can turn to this week's Tax Form Tuesday featured document, Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.

Before we go the replacement route, though, let's look at ways to find your wayward W-2.

1. Check your email. Even though issuers can drop employees' W-2s into an old-fashioned U.S. post office repository by Jan. 31, more employers nowadays are going digital when it comes to employee communications. That includes tax matters. While security concerns prevent most from actually emailing W-2s to workers, most firms give workers electronic access to company documents, including tax statements. Your W-2 could be just waiting for you to go to your workplace employee portal and download your earnings statement. So check your email box, as well as your spam folder in case it went there.

2. Call your company. OK, still no W-2 in your email or snail mail box. Not it's time to touch base with your company, either by phone or stopping by the payroll or human resources office. If you moved and didn't notify your firm because your checks are directly deposited, your W-2 might have gone to your old address. Give your employer your correct mailing info and ask that it resend the W-2.

3. Get the IRS involved. Tax time keeps ticking, you've contacted your employer multiple time and you're still waiting for your W-2. It might be time to call in the big guns, i.e., the Internal Revenue Service. Start by calling the IRS toll-free at (800) 829-1040.

Before you dial, have on hand:

  • Your name, address, phone number and Social Security number.
  • Your employer’s name, address and phone number.
  • The dates you worked for the employer.
  • An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld last year. Your last pay stub of the tax year should have these amounts.

Once you give that information to the IRS, the agency will contact your workplace about the missing tax document.

4. File using a replacement W-2. You and the IRS have cajoled, nagged and threatened and you're still without your W-2. It's time to file using a substitute wage statement. That's our featured form, Form 4852. This document asks you to estimate your wages and taxes withheld last year. Again, your final pay stub can help provide these figures.

Filling out 4852: Form 4852 is a two-page document, but 1½ pages are instructions. The actual form itself, shown below, is just 10 lines.

Form 4852 substitute W-2

The first three lines are for, of course, your standard tax identifying info. You enter your name, address and Social Security number.

On line 4, let the IRS know the tax year for your missing W-2.

Next, on line 5, enter your employer's name and full address, followed on line 6, if you know it, with the company's taxpayer identification number (TIN). If you've worked there for a while, that number should be on a prior W-2 that did arrive.

Now to the fun financial stuff.

Line 7 asks for all that stuff that should be on your W-2. This is, on sublines a through i that are divided over two columns, where you enter your:

a - Wages, tips, and other compensation. Enter here your total wages received. This includes wages, noncash income, tips reported, and all other compensation before deductions for taxes, insurance, etc.

b - Social Security wages. This entry is, for most of us, all our income. One difference could be if you were well paid and made more than the Social Security wage base amount. That was $132,900 for the 2019 tax year. Don't, however, include Social Security tips and allocated tips.

c - Medicare wages and tips. Enter here your total wages and tips subject to Medicare tax. This is all of your money. Unlike with Social Security taxable wages, this portion of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes is not limited. You also could even owe the Additional Medicare Tax if you made a six-figure sum.

d - Social Security tips. Here is where you enter the tips you reported to your employer for the year. The total of lines 7b and 7d can't exceed the Social Security wage base for the tax year that you reported on line 4.

e - Federal income tax withheld. This is a key amount, both to you in filing your taxes and seeing if you owe more and Uncle Sam, who's also very interested in whether you him more.

f - State income tax withheld. The form wants the amount as well as the state doing the collecting.

g - Local income tax withheld. For all y'all who live in places that also collect city, county or other local taxes, this is where that amount and jurisdiction name go.

h - Social security tax withheld. This is the FICA payroll tax portion just you paid — 6.2 percent of line 7b — toward the federal retirement benefit. Your employer's portion is not entered here. However, you do need to enter the Social Security tax on any tips you earned.

i - Medicare tax withheld. Just like with Social Security taxes, this is the amount you only paid toward the federal government's medical insurance program. It should be 1.45 percent of the Medicare wages and tips you report on line 7c, as well as the 0.9 percent Additional Medicare Tax withheld on any earnings of more than $200,000.

Again, pull out your final pay stub and use that information to arrive at the best possible estimates of what to enter on these lines.

Line 8 is where you enter information (on 10 sublines a through j) related to income you received from pensions, annuities, retirement or profit-sharing plans, IRAs, insurance contracts and the like but for which you never got a Form 1099-R. If you don’t have complete and accurate information from a Form 1099-R, use a distribution statement from your plan trustee to help complete line 8. For additional information, get Form 1099-R and the Instructions for Forms 1099-R and 5498.

On line 9, the IRS wants to know just how you arrived at the amounts you entered on lines 7 and/or 8. This is as simple as telling the tax agency that you estimated the amounts, used your pay stubs or used a statement reporting your distribution.

Similarly, line 10 wants more from you on what steps you took to get your missing earnings statements from your employer or payer.

For legit filing only: You really are just trying to file your taxes with the correct earnings information. That's why you bugged your boss and now have resorted to filing using the substitute Form 4852.

Some less honest filers, however, obviously have used the replacement W-2 to fill out fraudulent returns. That's why the IRS warns on the form that it "will challenge the claims of individuals who attempt to avoid or evade their federal tax liability by using Form 4852 in a manner other than as prescribed."

Those potential penalties for the improper use of Form 4852 include:

  • Accuracy-related penalties equal to 20 percent of the amount of taxes that should have been paid,
  • Civil fraud penalties equal to 75 percent of the amount of taxes that should have been paid, and
  • A $5,000 civil penalty for filing a frivolous return or submitting a specified frivolous submission as described by Internal Revenue Code section 6702.

Amended return if W-2 arrives: You went to all the trouble to fill out your substitute W-2 and file using Form 4852 and your dang W-2 finally arrived!

In the W-2 amounts are different than what you came up with on your 4852, then you'll need to amend your tax return by filing Form 1040-X using the official document's accurate amounts.

So that you don't have to do the double filing duty, you might want to wait a little longer for that W-2. But if March rolls around and you're still waiting, then you can turn to Form 4852.

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I have a question. I have worked a few different places in 2019, I have all my w-2s except for one and I talked to the IRS and they sent me the substitute form. I have all my other taxes ready to file on turbotax. When can I file them if I have to send in the 4852 form separately? Or how does that work?

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