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What Is a W-2? Everything You Need To Know

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When you earn wages or a salary from an employer and your income taxes are withheld, you should receive a W-2 form sometime during the first six weeks of the new year. This form contains all the relevant information about your income that you’ll need to prepare your tax return.

Your employer will also send a copy to the Social Security Administration, which will match the information from your employer with the information you report on your tax return. In case you had more than one employer during the year, you’ll need to wait to receive all your W-2 forms before filing taxes for the year.

What Is a W-2 Form?

A W-2 is formally known as Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.  In addition to listing how much you earned and paid in taxes, it includes personal identifying information such as your Social Security number, along with information about your employer, including its employer identification number.

Each section of a W-2 serves a specific tax-filing purpose. The IRS provides extensive instructions that are updated annually for the more complicated entries on the form.

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How Do I Get My W-2 Form?

The W-2 should be sent directly to you from your employer, either through email, postal mail, an online portal or some other method. If you don’t get one, you can contact the IRS directly and it will contact your employer on your behalf. To request assistance from the IRS in obtaining your W-2, call 1-800-829-1040. Be sure to have the following information handy:

Your third option is to file Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2.

When Should I Get a W-2?

Employers must have all W-2s sent or postmarked no later than January 31 unless that date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, in which case the deadline will be the next business day. 

If you don’t receive your W-2 by Feb. 15, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS will contact your employer to issue the W-2 form that is missing. The IRS will also send you a Form 4852.

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Good To Know

Not everyone receives a single W-2 form at tax time. Some receive multiple forms. This happens if you changed jobs during the calendar year, worked more than one job where you are considered an employee with income taxes withheld, or the company you worked for was acquired by another company. If you are due more than one W-2, wait to receive them all before preparing your tax return.

What’s on a W-2 Form?

A W-2 is broken down into numbered and lettered boxes. A draft version of the 2022 form was released on Dec. 17, 2021 by the IRS and had no substantial changes from the final 2021 version.

To better prepare for tax time, you should familiarize yourself with a W-2 so you can easily spot any errors you might find.

Here’s a look at each of the boxes you’ll see when you receive a W-2 form. Some are self-explanatory, while others need further explanation.

Lettered Boxes:

There are six lettered boxes on a W-2 form. The boxes provide employer and employee information for the specific job held during the tax year. Here’s a breakdown of the lettered boxes on a W-2:

  1. a) Employee’s Social Security number
  2. b) Employer identification number, or EIN, which is assigned to individual employers by the IRS
  3. c) Employer’s name, address and ZIP code
  4. d) Control number used by employers to identify specific W-2s; often unused
  5. e) Employee’s name
  6. f) Employee’s address and ZIP code

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Numbered Boxes:

The W-2 form has 20 numbered boxes. These contain wage and tax information for a specific job held during the tax year. Here’s a breakdown of the numbered boxes on Form W-2:

1) Wages, tips and other compensation

2) Federal income tax withheld

3) Social Security wages subject to Social Security tax

4) Social Security tax withheld

5) Medicare wages and tips

6) Medicare tax withheld

7) Social Security tips subject to Social Security tax

8) Allocated tips

9) Verification code

10) Dependent care benefits

11) Nonqualified plans

12) Codes: Box 12 has four sections –12a, 12b, 12c and 12d. There is a space for a code in front of each entry. Here are what the codes mean if they appear

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13) Check boxes: Your employer will check if any of the following apply: statutory employee, retirement plan or third-party sick pay. A statutory employee is an independent contractor who is treated by statute as an employee. Retirement plan is checked if you participated in a retirement plan through your employer. Third-party sick pay is checked if your employer is reporting sick pay received from a third party.

14) Catch-all box for payments made that don’t fall into any other category, such as state disability insurance taxes withheld, union dues or uniform payments

15) Employer’s state ID number

16) State wages and tips

17) State income tax withheld

18) Local wages and tips

19) Local income tax withheld

20) Locality name where local income tax was paid

Who Does and Doesn’t Get a W-2?

An employer must file a W-2 for every employee who received pay for services rendered under these criteria:

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If you’re an employee who received a regular paycheck that included withholding for federal and state taxes, you should get a W-2. But if you fall under the category of a freelance worker or independent contractor, you’ll receive a Form 1099-MISC or Form 1099-NEC instead.

What if Your W-2 Information Is Wrong?

If you notice that something is not right with your Form W-2, such as an error in income or withholding, you should first contact your employer and let them know. They should issue you a corrected copy.

If you don’t receive a corrected copy by the end of February, you can file a Form W-2 complaint. Call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 or make an appointment to visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. The IRS will send your employer a letter requesting that they furnish you with a corrected Form W-2 within ten days. The IRS will also send you a letter with instructions and Form 4852, which you can use if your employer doesn’t provide you with the corrected Form W-2 in time to file your return. 

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When you call the IRS or visit a TAC office, you need to have the following information available:

If you receive a corrected Form W-2 after you filed your return with Form 4852, and the information differs from the information reported on your return, you’ll need to correct your return by filing Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return

Vance Cariaga, Daria Uhlig and Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.

Last updated: Jan. 19, 2022.