By now, you should have your hands on probably the most important tax form this filing season: your W-2. Formally called the “Wage and Tax Statement,” it’s a boxy-looking beauty that details compensation from an employer. Generally, every employer that paid you at least $600 in 2017 has to send you a W-2 by Jan. 31.
Without your W-2, your tax life can get pretty messy. But what if yours hasn’t arrived? Here’s what to do.
1. Ask your employer for another one
The human resources or payroll department should be able to give you another copy. The same goes for ex-employers (so there’s no need to cross paths with an old manager if you don’t want to). While you’re at it, make sure they have your current address. Incorrect addresses are the biggest reason people don’t get their W-2s on time, says Christi Bender, a CPA in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
2. Get your last pay stub
You have to report your income even if you didn’t get a W-2, so you’re not off the hook if your employer is out of business, disorganized or just refuses to cough up the form. Your last pay stub for 2017 should have enough “year-to-date” information to go on so that you can prepare your tax return while you track things down.
“You input to the best of your ability what your withholdings were, what your taxable wages were, your state wages and state withholdings, local wages, local withholdings. You work off your paycheck and make a good stab at it,” Bender says. “You should be close.”
» Get a sense of where you stand: Tax calculators can estimate what you’ll owe (or get back)
3. File IRS Form 4852
This is a substitute W-2. Fill it out based on the information you have (probably from your year-end pay stub) and attach it to your return, says Paul Joseph, a CPA and attorney in Williamston, Michigan. Be sure to keep a copy.
If and when the IRS gets a copy of your W-2 from the employer and wonders why it doesn’t match your return, the Form 4852 helps explain the discrepancy. If it looks like you overpaid or underpaid, the IRS will ask for an explanation and send you a refund or bill you for the difference, Bender says.
4. Call the IRS
If the employer isn’t responding to your request (or sent you an incorrect W-2 and won’t fix it), call the IRS at 800-829-1040 and tell them you would like to file a Form W-2 complaint. That complaint generates a letter to your employer from the IRS. The letter basically tells the employer to get on it or else.
You can also try ordering a transcript from the IRS. “In there will be your 1099s, W-2s and other information that have been reported by third parties to the IRS,” Joseph says.
You’ll need to prove you’re you for the IRS to release the information, so be prepared for a verification process, he says. Also note that your transcript may not be up-to-date until July and it doesn’t include information about state taxes withheld.
5. Make a plan for the tax deadline
If it’s close to April 17 (that’s the filing deadline this year) and you’re still missing a W-2, you have some options, says Abby Eisenkraft, an Enrolled Agent and CEO of Choice Tax Solutions in New York.
- File now and fix it later. Add Form 4852 to your return, pay what you think you owe, then amend the return later if and when the W-2 finally shows up. You’ll need to file Form 1040X to amend the return (warning: you can’t file it electronically — it’s paper only). Don’t forget about your state returns.
- Get an extension. File IRS Form 4868 by April 17 and you’ll get until Oct. 15 to file your return. Remember, you’re getting an extension of time to file the return — not an extension of time for payment of taxes. If you think you’ll owe money to the IRS, make an estimated tax payment by April 17 to avoid penalties and interest. Then, when the W-2 shows up, file your return.
6. Don’t bother with revenge
If an employer is way behind on preparing W-2s, it might be worth mentioning that the IRS fines employers that file late or incorrect W-2s. The penalties range from $50 to $530 per W-2 depending on the size of the business and how late things are.
But don’t waste time plotting vengeance against employers that give you a W-2 headache. You probably have little or no recourse.
“All they have to do is say, ‘I mailed it. I don’t know why you didn’t get it.’ It’s your word against their word,” Bender says. “Life does not go according to plan. Revert to Plan B.”