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Lost or missing documents can turn tax season into a giant headache, but they don’t have to stall you for long. Here are some common tax necessities that might go missing — and what a tax pro says you can do if they give you the slip.
Lost: Your W-2
What to do: Go to HR or your payroll department.
A W-2 reports how much your employer paid you during the tax year and how much tax it withheld on your behalf. Generally, employers have to provide W-2s to employees by Jan. 31. If yours is lost or never showed up, simply ask your employer for another one, says Mark Luscombe, a certified public accountant and principal analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Check your old emails, too — many companies offer electronic access to company documents, including tax statements.
What else you can try: Call the IRS.
The IRS might be able to contact your employer about the missing tax document. But if you’re up against the filing deadline or your employer went out of business, you may be able to file IRS Form 4852, which is a substitute W-2. On it, you’ll need to estimate your wages and taxes withheld for the year. Your final pay stub for the year can probably help provide these figures, Luscombe notes.
Lost: Old tax returns
What to do: Get a tax transcript from the IRS.
This lets you see most line items from your federal tax returns for the current tax year and for returns processed during the prior three years. You can also get basic data such as payment type and your adjusted gross income for the current tax year and for up to the last 10 years. Tax transcripts are free, but note: They aren’t the same as a photocopy of your tax return. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll probably need to fill out IRS Form 4506 instead (and there’s a fee).
What else you can try: Check with your tax software or tax preparer.
“If you were using a tax professional, they probably have it on file,” Luscombe says. If you’ve been using tax software, your software provider might still have your old returns on file, depending on the company and which version of the software you bought.
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Lost: A 1099
What to do: Log in to your investment account.
A 1099 is a record that some entity or person (not your employer) gave or paid you money. There are many types of 1099s, though some of the most popular ones — the 1099-DIV, 1099-B and 1099-R — report dividends, capital gains and other income from investments or retirement accounts. If you’ve lost one of those, you can probably get another in the tax-documents section of your investment account’s website.
What else you can try: Look at your year-end account statements.
Generally, attaching 1099s to tax returns isn’t required unless taxes were withheld from the payments, so if you can find the information somewhere else — like on your account statements — you might be OK, Luscombe says. “As long as you can re-create the information from statements, some people suggest not even bothering to try to get the 1099,” he says. “One, it's a lot of difficulty, and two, you don't have to send it to the IRS anyway.” Also, whoever sends you a 1099 is supposed to send a copy to the IRS, which raises the risk that the IRS might mistake that second 1099 issuance for a second payment and think you got twice as much as you're reporting, Luscombe says.
Lost: Your 1098
What to do: Log on to your bank account.
A 1098 shows how much interest you paid on a mortgage during the year — interest that could score you a tax deduction. Your mortgage lender likely provides access to this and other tax documents (such as your property tax payments) online.
What else you can try: Look at your year-end mortgage statement.
You're not required to attach your 1098 to your tax return, Luscombe says, so if you can re-create the information from your monthly mortgage statement or similar, chasing down another copy of your 1098 may be unnecessary. “I would only do that if you're not confident in the information that you have,” he notes.
Lost: Enough time to do your taxes because you were hunting for lost documents
What to do: Get an extension.
If the wait for missing documents will go beyond April 15, you can use IRS Form 4868 to get an extension. Generally, that will give you six more months to track things down. But beware: An extension gives you more time to file your tax forms — it doesn’t give you more time to pay your taxes. You’ll still need to estimate how much tax you owe and include that amount (along with your extension request) by April 15. Interest and penalties may apply if you pay less than what you actually owe, so take your estimate seriously.
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