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Blog/Guides/Can You Legally File Your Taxes Without a W-2?

Can You Legally File Your Taxes Without a W-2?

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As you prepare to file your taxes and try to get all of your paperwork in order, a missing form might have you wondering if you can take some short cuts. Maybe you lost your W-2 or maybe it never showed up. Can you still file your taxes anyway or would doing so put you in legal peril?

The Legality of Filing Without Your W-2

Technically, it is possible to legally file taxes without your W-2 if you file electronically, but in order to do your taxes correctly you will need the information contained in your W-2. This includes the following:

  • Your employer’s identification number
  • Your employer’s name and address
  • Your total wages, including tips and any other compensation
  • Amount of federal income tax withheld
  • Your social security wages and tips (as separate items)
  • Social security tax withheld
  • Medicare wages and tips
  • Medicare tax withheld
  • State income tax withheld
  • Any local income taxes withheld

When you file electronically, you are not required to submit a copy of your W-2 itself, but will only need to enter the information from it. However, it is recommended to keep your W-2 in a safe place in case you need to produce it in the future, such as in the event of an audit, or for other purposes such as background checks.

Keep in mind that your employer should have filed a W-2 form with the Social Security Administration (SSA) by the end of January and the SSA will have shared this information with the IRS, so if the numbers you enter differ from what your employer reported, you could end up with an audit on your hands.

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In the event of an audit, you will need to produce documents, (such as your W-2) to prove your income and withholding. In such an event, you could end up with legal difficulties if you can’t show that the numbers you entered were in good faith.

The best place to find accurate numbers for income and withholding besides your W-2 form is on your last pay stub of the year. If you don’t have this in hand, you may be able to find it online through your employer or get a copy of it from your company’s human resources office. The best way to make sure your info is accurate and consistent with what your employer has filed is to get the numbers directly off of the W-2 itself.

What If I File by Mail?

If you file your taxes by mail, the IRS does require that you include a copy of your W-2 with your return. Failing to do so will most likely result in a letter from the IRS requesting the missing document.

Don’t fret, however, if the reason you failed to include your W-2 when mailing your taxes was that you didn’t have it. You can make an attempt to get a copy from your employer or you can amend your return and file a form 4852 for estimated numbers.

When Am I Supposed to Get My W-2?

Employers are required to send W-2s to the SSA by the end of January. This means you should expect the form from your employer on or before that time, though it’s possible to still receive it a few days after the end of January if your employer mailed it to you on the day of the deadline.

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While some employers mail these documents, others make them available electronically,or provide them via both methods. It’s always a good idea to keep your address and email up to date with your employer to prevent important documents from getting lost in the mail.

If you haven’t received your W-2 by mid-February, contact your employer to see what happened. This will most likely resolve the issue.

What if I Am Unable to Get a W-2?

If your W-2 never arrives and your employer refuses to resolve the situation, you can contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 or locate an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center and let them know. They will contact your employer and try to resolve the situation. The IRS, being a government authority, tends to be good at motivating negligent employers who want to avoid legal consequences.

If a W-2 form is truly unobtainable, you can fill out form 4852 with your best estimates for your earnings and withholdings. Again, the best place to find these numbers is on your end-of-the-year paystub.

All About Form 4852

IRS form 4852 is only meant to be used if your employer fails to provide you with a W-2 or your W-2 was incorrect. It shouldn’t be used if you simply misplaced your W-2. In such an event, request another copy from your employer instead.

To fill out this form, you will need to enter the following:

  • Estimated numbers for all wages earned and taxes withheld that would have been listed on your W-2
  • A statement explaining how you came up with those numbers
  • Your employer’s name and address
  • An explanation of how you tried to obtain your W-2 from your employer

The information you enter on this form can be a good faith estimate, but if you later obtain information suggesting your numbers weren’t correct, you are required to file an amended return with updated information.

You may face penalties if the IRS determines you used this form to avoid paying taxes or to enter fraudulent information.

Can My Tax Service Get My W-2 For Me?

Some tax services are able to obtain your W-2 for you electronically before you would receive yours in the mail, or in the event you lost yours. The availability of your W-2 through such services does depend on whether your employer has filed your W-2 yet or not, so it may still take until the end of January to get your W-2 this way.

Not all W-2s will necessarily be available through these services, however, and often if they are, it’s because your company already provides you with a means to electronically access your W-2 form.

What If I’m an Independent Contractor?

If you are an independent contractor, then you should not be expecting any W-2s. Instead, any company from which you earned more than $600 for the year should send you a form 1099 instead. This form serves a similar purpose to the W-2, except it will not show any withholdings, since as an independent contractor, you are responsible for taxes on your own.

If you fail to receive a 1099 from a company, all of the same instructions above apply. Namely, you can contact the company if you failed to receive it, and file a form 4852 and report the situation to the IRS if that proves fruitless.

It’s Always Best to Wait for or Obtain Your W-2

Regardless of whether it’s technically legal or not to file your taxes without your W-2, it’s in your best interest to wait to file until you have your W-2 in hand. Otherwise, you risk errors in your tax form and potential problems down the road.

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