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6 tips on how to file your taxes when you're missing tax statements

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We haven't filed our 2022 tax return because we're missing one 1099 form. OK, that's just one reason we (and by we, I mean I) haven't yet filed. But it's one of them, and we're not alone.

Lots of taxpayers every filing season must wait for tax documents so they can correctly complete their returns.

We did, however, get a letter today explaining why this tax statement was late. It also promised the form's arrival soon, and definitely in time to meet the April filing deadline. We shall see. Fingers 🤞 crossed.

The wait has been annoying, but I appreciate the small (and mortified) company's transparency. And if push came to shove, I'd be OK filing just using the last payment stub from the company, since it shows all the year's payments.

If you, however, aren't as sanguine about a missing tax statement, either one of the many 1099 iterations or a W-2 salary statement, here are some steps you can take.

1. Check your email. Every day, more of our lives are electronic. This includes tax-related matters. Lots of companies, from employers to companies that hire contractors to investment firms, encourage their workers or clients to do things digitally, from receiving payments and tax statements about those earnings.

The companies won't email you the actual tax documents. The possibility of wrong email addresses or hacked mailboxes pose too much of a security and privacy risk.

But the statement issuers usually alert you by email that you can find your tax statements at the business websites or, in employer cases, via your company intranet for employees. Make sure you haven't overlooked that document notice.

2. Contact the company et al who paid you. You waited, you cursed, you checked snail and email boxes, and cursed some more. If you haven't received your W-2 or 1099s by now, then it is time to act. By law, they were to be in your hands by the end of January, or at least by early February if you allow some slack.

Contact the employer, payer, or issuing agency and request a copy of the missing document. That's what we did when we had all our statements except the aforementioned 1099. On that call, we got the reasons detailed in today's letter. From the company president, who happened to answer the phone! Told you it was a small operation.

If you're still working for the company that didn't send your Form W-2, let your payroll office or outside payroll service know that you never got the tax document. It should be easy to issue a replacement. If you've left that workplace, call the company and ask for a duplicate.

The same outreach applies to missing 1099s, notably the DIV, MISC, INT, and NEC varieties. Touch base with those issuers and ask for a copy of the form that didn't make it. You might even make a new friend, like we did.

Also be aware that, in some cases, you might not have received a tax statement because you didn't make enough money to trigger its issuance. The threshold amount varies depending on the type of payment; for example, investment earnings generally must be at least $10, while contract payment documents aren't required until you receive at least $600.

But the amount that prompts the issuance of tax statements doesn't matter as far as what's due the Internal Revenue Service. Any payouts, regardless of how small and with or without IRS-required documentation, are taxable.

You also generally don't need to include 1099s with your return. Unlike W-2 forms, which Form 1040 tells you to attach to your return (physically or by entering the information electronically), most other third-party payment statements typically are informational only. You don't send them in with your return.

These reporting differences do, however, underscore the need for you to have a good record keeping system for all your earnings. As I noted, I can use our earlier payment stubs to account for the earnings for which we've yet to get a 1099.

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 materials might have gone to a prior address.

3. Call the IRS. As we near the Tax Day deadline, which is April 18 this year, you might need to go straight to Uncle Sam, especially when your missing document is a W-2. In this case, call the IRS toll-free at (800) 829-1040.

The IRS will get involved if you still haven't received your original or corrected tax document by the end of February. Since we're well past that date, pick up the phone now.

4. Gather the info the IRS needs to follow-up. This technically is step 4, but it's actually a continuation of your step 3 call to the IRS. When you do call about a missing income statement, you'll need to provide the agency the information listed below.

  • Your full legal name, address (including ZIP code), Social Security number, and phone number.
  • The employer's 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. Again, record keeping can be a tax lifesaver.
  • 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.

Once the tax agency hears from you about a missing salary statement, it will send you, or tell you to download, Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099-R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc. That's an excerpt of the form below.

Form 4852 substitute W2
See more tax forms and more about them at 2022's Talking Tax Forms and Tax Forms 2023.

Then use Form 4852 to, as the form's instructions say, estimate your income and withheld taxes. Be as accurate as possible.

Recreating 1099 form information is a bit stickier. Since the IRS doesn't require these statements be filed with your return, there's no official form to use in their place.

That's why, once more for those in the back, it's a good idea to maintain complete, timely records of all your payments.

5. File using Form 4852 or other replacement information. The IRS obviously lets you file your tax return using Form 4852 in place of the official wage statement. And when you don't have 1099 data, it will trust you to honestly enter the information on which it wasn't copied.

Note, however, that it's not the best way to file. The processing of your return likely will be slower than normal, as the agency still will do its best to verify the substitute information you provided, either via 4852 or on your Form 1040 or other filing paperwork. That can take extra time with no third-party forms to compare.

6. Get an extension. If you can afford to wait beyond the April 18 filing due date, consider a filing extension. Just send the IRS Form 4868, and you'll automatically get six more months — until Oct. 16 this year — to finish your tax paperwork. 

Of course, you'll have to use the information you do, or do not, have to estimate your current tax liability. That's because an extension gives you more time to submit your forms, not more time to pay any tax you owe. That due tax money, or a good estimate of the amount, must accompany your extension request by no later than Tax Day.

But during the added six months, the missing tax documents might eventually arrive, meaning when you do finally file your return, it will be correct.

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