As you prepare to file your taxes and try to get all of your paperwork in order this year, a missing form might have you wondering if you can take some shortcuts. 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?
Is Filing Taxes Without Your W-2 Legal?
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 Internal Revenue Service (IRS). So if the numbers you enter differ from what your employer reported, you could have an audit on your hands.
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 on 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.
When Am I Supposed to Get My W-2?
Employers are required to send W-2s to the SSA and their employees by the end of January. This means you should expect the form to be sent by your employer on or before that time. However, 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, which is January 31st.
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.
What to Do If You Haven’t Received Your W-2
As mentioned above, many employers now issue W-2 forms electronically. Since sending it via email isn't always secure, oftentimes employers will send a link to an online portal where you can download the form yourself.
Make sure to double-check your spam folder to see if a notice ended up there accidentally. If your employer has an online portal where you typically go to access your paychecks, paid time off (PTO), and other employment information, log in to see if you can find a link to your W-2.
Some tax services can obtain your W-2 for you electronically before you would receive yours in the mail or in the event that it is lost. 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 receive your W-2 this way.
Ask Your Employer
This is the path of least resistance. 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. Even if you have recently changed jobs in the past year, you must still get a W-2 from your former employer to file your taxes correctly.
Call or email an HR representative to ask about the status of your W-2 and to confirm they have your correct mailing address, especially if you've recently moved residences. What typically happens is your employer has mailed the form, but it got lost in the mail or went to the wrong address. If your former employer doesn't have an HR department, try contacting your former manager. You can always offer to pick it up in person to save time.
Contact the IRS
Suppose your W-2 never arrives and your employer or former employer refuses to resolve the situation. In that case, you can contact the IRS toll-free 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.
How to File Taxes without a W-2
If you cannot get a copy of your W-2, you can still file taxes by filling out IRS form 4852, “Substitute for Form W-2, Wage, and Tax Statement.” Form 4852 is only meant to be used if your employer fails to provide you with a W-2 or if your W-2 was incorrect. It shouldn’t be used if you simply misplaced your W-2. Keep in mind that you may face penalties if the IRS determines you used this form to avoid paying taxes or to enter fraudulent information.
The IRS does not accept online submissions of 4852, so you will need to print and mail the required forms to the IRS. 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. However, if you later obtain information suggesting your numbers are incorrect, you must file an amended return with updated information.
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 1099-NEC form 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-NEC from a company, the same instructions apply. Namely, you can contact the company if you fail to receive it and file a form 4852 and report the situation to the IRS if that proves fruitless. If you're a freelancer, click here to learn more about how to file taxes without a W-2.
It’s Always Best to 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.