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What to Do If You Didn't Get Your W-2 Forms

By Heather Kennedy-Bordeaux, Esq. | Last updated on

You want to file your federal income taxes early. You’ve had that family vacation planned for a year, and you need your refund to pay for it. But there’s a problem: Your employer has to send your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement by January 31, but you still haven't received it as required.

What should you do?

Call the Boss, Then Call the IRS

The first step is to contact your employer and request your missing form. Verify whether you previously signed up to receive your W-2 electronically. If you have, check your junk or spam box in your email. If you didn’t sign up for an electronic copy, and require a paper copy, verify that your employer has the correct address.

If contacting your employer doesn’t work, try calling the Internal Revenue Service at 800-TAX-1040 or visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center if one is near you. The IRS will need your name, Social Security number, address, and phone number. They will also need your employer’s name, address, and phone number, as well as your dates of employment. The agent will ask you to estimate the amount of wages and any income tax withheld, so be sure you have your last pay stub or earnings statement available. The IRS will then contact your employer for you and try to obtain your W-2.

Ultimately, the IRS can’t force your employer to send your W-2. But non-compliance with the W-2 delivery deadline can be a big inconvenience for both the employee and the employer. For each W-2 that is up to 30 days late, an employer may be fined $50. If a W-2 is sent after August 1, the IRS can issue a fine of $290. An intentional failure to file W-2 information with the IRS can lead to a fine of $580 per statement. This can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for employers that don’t give out W-2s to any of their employees.

There are a couple of additional options available should you still find yourself without a W-2 after speaking with your employer.

Estimate Your Taxes

If you plan to file on time without your W-2, you can complete an IRS Form 4852, entitled "Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement." You will need to estimate your wage and tax information, so make sure you have your paystubs on hand.

Unfortunately, if the information on your W-2 ends up being different than the information provided on Form 4852, you will have to file an amended federal tax return form 1040X.

File for an Extension

If you need more time to file your return, you can file for an extension by filing Form 4868, entitled “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Tax Return.” You can file the request by mail or e-file.

An extension moves the filing deadline from April to October. It can help you avoid the late filing penalty and the failure to file penalty. Rather than rushing to estimate your taxes, your return may be more accurate because you may receive your missing W-2 in the interim. An extension can also extend your period for claiming a tax refund six months longer than the usual three-year due date.

Remember, however, that changing the filing deadline does not change when your taxes are due, so if you haven’t paid the amount you owe in taxes by the April deadline, you will continue to incur fees and penalties until they are paid. You may also have to wait longer for your refund.

Whichever approach you take, you must file your return or extension request by the tax-filing deadline. A tax preparation service or attorney can provide personalized information and advice on a variety of tax issues. If, after you’ve tried the steps above, you still find yourself in a bind, consider giving a professional a call for a consultation.

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