What is a Form W-2?

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Form W-2The Form W-2 Wage and Tax Statement is a form that your employer sends you near the beginning of the calendar year. By law, they are required to mail it by January 31st, barring any special extensions, so that you have ample time to meet the April 15th income tax filing deadline.

When your employer sends you a copy of your W-2, they will also send a copy to the IRS. It’s important that, when you’re filling out your taxes, you enter this information correctly. You will be audited if the information on your return doesn’t match the information the IRS received from your employer.

Form W-2

There are 29 boxes on the W-2, six of which are identified with letters and twenty are identified with numbers. Only the relevant boxes will be filled out, the fields are:

  • a. Employee’s social security number
  • b. Employer identification number (EIN)
  • c. Employer’s name, address, and ZIP code
  • d. Control number
  • e. Employee’s first name and initial, Last name, Suff.
  • f. Employer’s address and ZIP code
  • 1. Wages, tips, other compensation
  • 2. Federal income tax withheld
  • 3. Social security wages
  • 4. Social security tax withheld
  • 5. Medicare wages and tips
  • 6. Medicare tax withheld
  • 7. Social security tips
  • 8. Allocated tips
  • 9. BLANK
  • 10. Dependent care benefits
  • 11. Nonqualified plans
  • 12a., b., c., d. – Deferrals.
  • 13. Checkboxes for statutory employee, retirement plan, third-party sick pay
  • 14. Other
  • 15. State – Employer’s state ID number
  • 16. State wages, tips, etc.
  • 17. State income tax
  • 18. Local wages, tips, etc.
  • 19. Local income tax
  • 20. Locality name

Fortunately, you will not have to know what each field means because tax preparation software and tax forms will reference these boxes by their number or letter. The only tricky part is box 12a-d, those are basically “catch-all” type of boxes where your employer will put a specific code along with a value. The lettered codes correspond to specific terms and can be found in the instructions of the Form W-2.

Fixing Errors on Form W-2

What if you find errors on your W-2? Contact your employer as soon as possible. Common errors include an incorrect social security number, misspelled name, or incorrect wages and tips. Any time you have data entry, such as filling out an employee record based on a hand written form, you can introduce errors. In fixing this error, your employer will file a Form W-2c, Corrected Wage and Tax Statement.

Missing Form W-2

If you haven’t received your Form W-2 from your employer or you have lost it, contact your employer immediately. It will be the easiest way for you to receive your Form W-2 (again). If that does not work, you can contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 for help but expect to wait. You will need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, phone number, your Employer’s name, address, phone number, your dates of employment, as well as an estimate of the wages you earned, federal tax withheld, and when you worked. As you can see, contacting the IRS directly is harder than calling your employer!

If you don’t have enough time to request a missing W-2 and still file your taxes on time, you can request a tax extension or file and then amend your return.

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “What is a Form W-2?”

  1. NCTaxPro says:

    You can also file your return on time using a Substitute W-2, Form 4852 (, although that should be the court of last resort. You should be able (hopefully!) to reconstruct what should have been on the W-2 from your pay stubs.

    If you believe you are going to owe and are up against the deadline, I suggest doing that to either asking for an extension or filing without and amending later. At least you should be able to get into the ballpark so that any penalities that might result later should be small.

  2. I wish all tax websites could spell this stuff out this clearly. I’ve sent this to my younger brother to bookmark 🙂

    • skylog says:

      agreed. as jim has stated, it may not be the most exciting topic, but i can only imagine the good that would be done if everyone read and understood all the parts that will end up in the series.

  3. Strebkr says:

    Ahhh the dreaded W-2. Its that one form we get in the mail every year that means its time to sit down and do our taxes.

  4. skylog says:

    i have never personally had issues, but i have heard friends complain that they were not getting their w-2 “on time.” what happens to the the business if they do not mail them in time?

  5. Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3 can also be downloaded from the IRS website. I’ve copied the link for convenience.

  6. Josh says:

    I have received a digital W-2 (a pdf file) from my employer (it contains copy b, c and 2). Can I print it and submit it with the other forms or do I need to do something different ?

    Thanks in advance.

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