Lost Your W-2? Here’s What To Do

Tips and tricks for replacing a lost W-2 and filing your taxes.

As technology is becoming increasingly advanced, businesses are rushing to digitize processes. This includes areas such as HR, payroll and tax reporting. While employers have transitioned to electronically issuing W-2 forms to employees, they may still mail paper copies out.

But more paperwork can lead to disorganization or worse — lost documents. Whether your W-2 was lost in the mail or just misplaced at home, it can be disturbing trying to figure out how to complete your taxes without it. While getting a duplicate of a W-2 does take a little legwork, it’s certainly doable.

Here’s a quick look at what you’ll find in this guide to coping with a lost W-2:

What To Do If You’ve Lost Your W-2

Losing a W-2 form is not the end of the world. The first thing you should do is take a deep breath and then reach out to the current or former employer who issued the form. Most employers provide W-2 forms to their workers by Jan. 31. If you know W-2 forms have already been sent out, your employer might be able to provide you with a duplicate copy. You can also contact the IRS directly for assistance on getting a replacement.

Some employers use payroll software or third-party payroll companies that allow employees to access payroll information from a secure web portal. Tax documents, including W-2s, are often saved on such sites throughout your tenure, and you may be able to access your W-2 online as a result. Be aware that most employers would direct you to this resource should it be available.

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More on Tax Forms: W-2 vs. W-4 — How To Manage Your Taxable Income

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How To Obtain a W-2 For a Previous Year

If you are looking for a W-2 issued by your current employer for a prior year, your employer may be able to provide you with a duplicate copy or access to download it electronically. If, however, you are looking for a W-2 from a previous year for an employer you are not presently employed with, obtaining a duplicate can get a bit tricky.

Contact Your Previous Employer

First, start by reaching out to your old employer, who should have a record of your employment history and may still be able to issue you a duplicate form. This is the quickest way to receive a copy of your W-2.

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Contact the IRS

If your employer is unable to help you, your second option is to request a transcript copy from the IRS. This option assumes you filed your taxes for the previous tax year.

The IRS won’t be able to issue an exact copy of your W-2, but it can provide a wage and income transcript. This transcript will contain the federal tax information your employer reported to the Social Security Administration for the corresponding year. Transcripts are available for up to 10 years prior. Allow 10 business days from the day the IRS receives your request to get a copy of the transcript.

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Check Your Tax Software

Additionally, if you use self-prepared tax software, such as Intuit’s TurboTax, you may be able to access a previous year’s W-2 if you uploaded and saved it to your account. You would have had to manually upload the document when filing the previous tax year. Tax documents do not automatically import every year.

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Filing Your Taxes Without a W-2

If you try but are unable to get a W-2, you can still file your taxes. To file your tax return on time when you have a missing or lost W-2, use Form 4852, the substitute for form W-2. You can find this form on the official IRS website.

Another option is to apply for an extension to file your taxes. Filing an extension using Form 4868 will allow you to delay filing a return until Oct. 15. Keep in mind, using this option only grants an extension on filing your tax forms, not on paying your taxes. To get an extension, you must still estimate your tax liability and pay the amount due on time.

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What To Do for a W-2 Received After Filing Your Tax Return

If you estimated your income incorrectly and filed your return based on that information, you’ll need to correct the return. Amend your return using Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Filing an amended return could impact your refund or even require additional payment of taxes owed. It can also take up to 16 weeks for your amended to return to be processed.

Keep reading to find out more about the penalties for filing taxes late.

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 This article has been updated with additional reporting since its original publication.

About the Author

Sabah Karimi is an award-winning writer with more than 10 years of experience writing about personal finance, lifestyle topics, and consumer trends. Her work has appeared on U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, Yahoo!, AOL Daily Finance, MSN, and other mainstream publications. She was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and CBS News about her work as a freelance writer early in her career and now works with a variety of clients.