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What To Do If You Haven't Received a W-2

Updated for Tax Year 2021 / October 16, 2021 10:51 AM


With tax season picking up, taxpayers across the country are eagerly awaiting their W-2s so they can file their returns and claim any refunds they might be owed. But, if you haven’t received your W-2 yet, you might be wondering where your W-2 is as the tax deadline gets closer and closer. These simple steps will help you track down your W-2 or file without it.

Woman checking her mailbox
While employers have until January 31 to issue W-2s to employees, some drop them in the mail on that date while others experience difficulties in getting them out on time. If you haven’t received your W-2 yet, there’s no reason to worry. There are still plenty of options to ensure you file accurately and on time.

Before we walk through what to do if you haven't received a W-2, we'll start with the basics—what it is and who receives one.

What is a W-2?

Form W-2 is completed by an employer and contains important information that you need to complete your tax return. It tracks your total wages for the year and the amount of federal, state, and other taxes withheld from your paycheck. It may also contain information about:

  • Tips
  • Contributions to a 401(k)
  • Contributions to a health savings account
  • Premiums your employer pays for health coverage
  • A variety of other numbers

Who receives a W-2?

Usually, you'll receive a W-2 if you're considered an employee (not a contractor). You may also receive multiple W-2s if you:

  • changed jobs within the calendar year, or
  • work more than one job where you’re considered an employee.

However, if you work as an independent contractor, the company will likely send you Form 1099-MISC rather than a W-2.

  • A Form 1099-MISC tracks your total wages and other fees for the year, like a W-2, but for contractors.
  • A big difference between the two forms is that businesses that hire independent contractors don't typically withhold federal income taxes or Social Security and Medicare taxes from the contractor's payments.
  • It is the responsibility of the contractor to estimate these taxes and pay them quarterly throughout the year.

If you’re waiting for your W-2, here are the steps you can take to find it.

Step 1: Check online

Many employers now issue Form W-2 electronically to employees. But that doesn't mean they'll always email the form to you, as it isn't particularly secure. Instead, they'll email you a link to an online portal where you can download the form yourself.

  • Once in a while, those emails get caught in your spam folder or sent to the wrong email address. Check your spam folder to see if the notice wound up there.
  • If your employer has an online portal where you access paycheck information, time cards, and other employment information, log into the website to see if your W-2 can be accessed there.
  • Even if you can't find it in your email or online, you may still be able to get it electronically. Employers not only send W-2s electronically to employees, but to the IRS as well.

Tax software like TurboTax can import your W-2 electronically and will actually notify you when your W-2 is available to start your taxes.

Step 2: Ask your employer

If your online search leaves you empty-handed, contact your employer's payroll or human resources department to ask when and how they issued your W-2. If they mailed it to an old or incorrect address, the post office may have returned it to the employer.

  • If that's the case, you can ask your employer to reissue your W-2 if you want to keep a paper file for your records.
  • If your W-2 went missing because of a mail snafu, you can use TurboTax to retrieve a copy. As long as your employer issued one, TurboTax can import it.

Step 3: Contact the IRS

What happens if your employer truly never issued your W-2? Perhaps they went out of business or aren’t responding to your request for a W-2? In that case, it's time to try contacting the IRS.

  • The IRS recommends contacting your employer first and waiting until the end of February to see if your W-2 arrives before getting the agency involved.
  • If you've met those 2 requirements, contact the IRS or make an appointment at a Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) if there's one near you.

Whether you call or visit a TAC in person, be ready to provide the following information:

  • Your name, address, Social Security number, and phone number
  • The employer's name, address, phone number and tax ID if you have it
  • The dates you worked for the employer
  • An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld (you can usually find this information on your last pay stub for the tax year)

The IRS will contact your employer on your behalf to request the missing form and remind the employer of the penalties for failing to issue Form W-2.

Step 4: File Form 4852 with your tax return

If IRS intervention still doesn't produce the form you need and you want to file by the tax deadline, fill out Form 4852.  Form 4852 is a substitute for Form W-2 that taxpayers can complete if:

  • they haven't received a W-2, or
  • their employer issued an incorrect W-2.

When you use TurboTax, we'll ask you a few questions to estimate your total wages and withholding using your final pay stub, and fill out Form 4852 based on your answers. The IRS doesn't allow Form 4852 to be filed electronically, so you'll need to print out the necessary forms and mail them to the IRS.

It might take the IRS longer than normal to process your return while it verifies your information.  If you don't mind waiting, you can request an extension. This gives you additional months to get your W-2 and file a return.

Step 5: Request a Wage and Income Transcript

If you filed your return using Form 4852 and want to verify that the information you included on your return agrees with the income your employer reported to the IRS, you can request a Wage and Income Transcript from the IRS. This transcript shows data from the informational returns that the IRS receives from issuers like your employer, including Forms W-2 and 1099.

  • You can request a Wage and Income Transcript online using the Get Transcript Online tool, or by mail using Form 4506-T.
  • Unfortunately, it takes a while for the IRS to compile all of this information. Your transcript might not be complete until July, so trying to order it before the tax deadline might not work.
  • Once you receive the transcript, you can use it to compare the information you provided on Form 4852 to the wage and withholding information that the IRS has on record.

Step 6: Amend your return (maybe)

If you receive a W-2 or order a Wage and Income Transcript after filing your tax return and the information you receive is different from what you reported on your tax return, you may need to amend your tax return.

TurboTax can help you make any necessary corrections and file Form 1040-X easily and accurately.

File with confidence—with or without a W-2

It's always easier to file a tax return with an accurate W-2 than without it, but if you haven't received your form and need to file, you have options. The steps above can help you get the information you need to file a complete and accurate return, even if your W-2 is tough to track down.

Remember, with TurboTax, we'll ask you simple questions about your life and help you fill out all the right tax forms. With TurboTax you can be confident your taxes are done right, from simple to complex tax returns, no matter what your situation.

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