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8 tips for first-time tax return filers

What to do if you're still missing your W-2

We're well into the 2022 tax filing season, meaning most of us have received the documents we need to file our tax returns.

The main ones, our W-2 forms from employers and 1099s reporting other types of compensation, were supposed to be sent by the end of January.

But sometimes that doesn't happen. Or the tax form you got was wrong. When then?

Here are four steps to take now, along with some other missing tax document issues to consider.

1. Check your email: More of our lives go electronic every day. That includes tax-related matters. Lots of companies, from employers to investment firms, encourage their workers or clients get payments via direct deposit. So it's only natural than when it comes to reporting those earnings, e-delivery is the norm. That's why you need to check your email, including junk and spam folders.

No, the companies won't email you the tax documents. That poses too much of a security and privacy risk. But they will email you to alert you that you can find your tax statements at the business websites or, in employer cases, via your employees' intranet.

2. Contact the issuing employer or payer: If you have no luck with the electronic double check, then it's time to make contact.

If you're still working for the company that didn't send your Form W-2, let your payroll office know that you never got the tax document. It should be easy to issue a replacement. Do the same if you got a W-2 that's wrong, and ask for a corrected copy.

The same outreach applies to missing 1099s, notably the DIV, MISC, and NEC varieties. Touch base with those issuers and ask for a copy of the form that didn't make it.

In some cases, you might not have received a 1099 because you didn't make enough money to trigger issuance of a tax statement. In most cases, it varies from $10 to $600. But the amount that prompts statements doesn't matter as far as the tax due on the money. Any payouts, regardless of how small and with or without IRS-required documentation, are taxable.

The statement difference as far as filing is that, unlike a W-2 copy that you include with your tax returns, 1099s aren't required to be attached to your filing. This difference also underscores the need for you to have a good record keeping system for all your earnings.

Finally, as long as you're contacting your boss or paying clients about missing tax statements, make sure they have all your updated, correct contact information. The missing tax document might have gone to a prior address.

3. Call the IRS: We approached the tax statement deadline that means you might need to go straight to Uncle Sam. The IRS says that if you still haven't received your original or corrected tax documents, especially a W-2, by the end of February, you should call the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040.

After your alert, the IRS will contact the employer/payer and request the missing or corrected form. You also should get Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. That's an excerpt of the form below.

Form 4852 substitute W2
See more tax forms and more about them at Talking Tax Forms!

You can ask the IRS to send you the 4852, or you can download it at's forms, instructions and publications page.

Then use Form 4852 to estimate your income and withheld taxes. Be as accurate as possible. If you have your last paystub of the year, those amounts will be there.

4. Gather the info the IRS needs to follow-up: When you call the IRS about a missing income statement, you'll need to provide the following information.

  • Your full legal name, address (including ZIP code), Social Security number, and phone number.
  • The employer or payer's name, address (including ZIP code), phone number, and, if you know it, the employer identification number (EIN). If you've received statements from the issuer before, the EIN should be on those earlier forms.
  • The dates you worked for the employer.
  • An estimate of the amount of wages paid and, if you have an idea, the federal income tax withheld for the tax year. As noted earlier, this info should be on your tax year's last paystub.

Acceptable, but not optimal: The IRS obviously lets you file your tax return using Form 4852 in place of the official tax statements.

Note, however, that it's not the best way to file. Processing of your return likely will be slower than normal — insert your IRS standard operating procedure and COVID-related delays jokes here — while the agency verifies the information.

If you can afford to wait longer, and that longer pushes this year's April 18 filing deadline, consider filing Form 4868 to get an automatic six-month extension to file your federal return.

Waiting can prevent extra tax filing: The reason to be patient, and slow in filing, is that waiting for the official tax documentation can save you from doing possible tax filing duty.

If you get your W-2 or 1099 after you file using the substitute documentation, and those official forms are different from what you entered on your 1040, you'll have to file an amended tax return.

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