The U.S. tax system can get complicated even when everything functions as it should — and even more when it doesn't. For instance, your tax deadline is looming and you are getting ready to file your taxes and you're trying to sort out all of your paperwork — only to realize you have a missing form?
Perhaps your W-2 or Wage and Tax statement never showed up, or you lost it? Should you still file your taxes and hope for the best, or would doing so be a mistake? Don’t worry — we’ll go through all of the details of how to file taxes without a W2 right here!
Is it legal to file without W-2?
Technically, you could still file your taxes legally without the W-2 form — as long as you're filing electronically. However, if you're going to do so correctly, there's a bunch of information from your W-2 you'll need nonetheless, such as:
- Any separate local income taxes withheld
- Medicare tax withheld
- Your complete wages, including other compensation like tips
- Social security tax withheld
- Social security tips and wages (separate items)
- Identification number of your employer
- Federal income tax withheld from your income
- State income tax withheld
- Name and address of your employer
So, if you’re filing your taxes electronically, you won’t need an actual copy of your W-2 form. However, it’s where you’d find all of the information we’ve listed above. And even if you have that info, we advise you to keep your W-2 somewhere secure — you never know if you’re going to have to produce it for the authorities in the future due to an audit or a background check.
Bear in mind that your employer is supposed to file your W-2 with the SSA (Social Security Administration) by the end of every January, and then the SSA is supposed to share this with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Therefore, if the data you enter differs from the numbers that your employer reported, it's perfectly possible you might get audited.
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And if an audit were to happen, you’d need to produce various documents that prove your withholding and income — the crucial one being precisely your W-2. In that case, your inability to prove that you entered the numbers that you had in good faith could mean legal difficulties.
So, you're probably wondering — if I don't have my W-2 form, what's the next best way to get accurate numbers for my income and withholding? Your best shot would be your last pay stub for the year. And if you don't have it handy either, you could potentially find it online with some help from your employer or contact your company's HR department and obtain a copy from them.
Still, these are just contingencies in case you really can't find your W-2. The safest way to ensure you're filing consistent and accurate info is to directly take the numbers off your W-2 sheet.
What should I do if I’m filing by mail?
When you’re filing online, you only need the accurate info from your W-2 form — not the actual form itself. However, things are different if you’re filing your taxes via mail. In that case, the IRS requires you to provide a copy of your W-2 form as well. And if you fail to do so, the IRS will likely send you a letter requesting your missing document.
However, if you fail to include a W-2 because you don't have one, there are ways to handle the situation. For example, you can contact your employer and try to get a copy from them, or you could amend your tax return and submit form 4852 — that's a substitute for form W-2, among other things, in case your employer doesn't file your W-2.
When do I get my W-2?
Normally, every employer submits the W-2 form for their employees by the end of January. However, you should expect to get the form from your employer before that — the end of January is the deadline. Also, it’s possible you’ll get it a couple of days after January if the employer used the last day of the deadline to mail the form.
Of course, that's only the case if your employer actually mails these kinds of documents through physical mail. On the other hand, your employer might make them available to you electronically — or perhaps they use both methods. That's why it's always smart to keep your employer up to date with any changes to your email and physical addresses — that prevents important stuff from getting lost in the mail.
Generally, if mid-February arrives and you still don’t have your W-2, it’s probably best to contact your employer and see if there’s anything wrong. In most cases, this is enough to resolve your issue.
What if I can’t get a W-2?
The scenario above is ideal if you don't receive your W-2 on time. But what should you do if it never arrives and your employer or former payroll provider doesn't acknowledge or resolve the situation? In that case, you should find the local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center and inform them of the situation — or simply call the IRS by phone.
After you do so, the IRS will contact your employer directly and attempt to resolve the matter at hand. Luckily, the fact that the IRS is a government agency means that they have more leverage in dealing with negligent employers that don’t want to face legal consequences.
And if for some reason, you still can't get your W-2 — you can still submit form 4852 with the best estimates you have for your withholdings and earnings. Remember — the best place to get these numbers is your final paystub for the previous year.
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If your W-2 form is incorrect or your employer has failed to provide you with one, you’re supposed to use IRS form 4852. And this is important — you’re not supposed to go with the 4852 form if you’ve just misplaced your W-2 form. In that case, the proper course of action is to ask your employer for another copy.
This is crucial — if the IRS determines that you’ve misused form 4852 to enter fraudulent information or avoid taxes, you’ll likely face penalties.
How do I file form 4852?
Even though you can find the form online, you can’t submit it to the IRS electronically — so you’ll have to print out the IRS form, fill it out, and mail it to the IRS along with everything else. And to fill it out, you’ll need to have:
- A detailed explanation of how you attempted to obtain the proper W-2 form from your employer
- Your employer’s address and name
- A statement that explains how you came up with the data you entered
- The estimated wages and withheld taxes that you would otherwise have listed on the W-2
Remember this: the information you enter on form 4852 is supposed to be a good faith estimate. However, if you obtain information that suggests this data wasn’t correct later, you’re still supposed to file your amended tax return with the newly acquired information.
What about independent contractors?
If you’re working as an independent contractor, you don’t file a W-2 form in the first place. Instead, any company that paid you over $600 for your work in the previous year is supposed to send you a 1099 form instead.
This form largely serves a similar purpose to the W-2, but it doesn’t show any withholdings. This is because you’re responsible for your taxes as an independent contractor.
However, if a company doesn’t send you the form 1099 they were supposed to, all of the stuff we’ve told you about the W-2 still applies — and your next course of action is largely the same. You contact the company that was supposed to send you the W-2, and if that doesn’t solve the issue, you file form 4852 with your taxes and contact the IRS yourself.
Even though there are technically ways to file your federal income taxes without a W-2 form legally, it's still best to wait for one before you file or try to obtain it. Otherwise, the errors you may make in your tax form could create potential issues down the road.
If any of the information provided above made you feel confused, don’t stress because you are not alone. There are many other businesses that have faced similar problems in the past. However, with time, they have fared well with just a little help.
If you are struggling or just don't have the time to keep up with it, it may be time to have Hall Accounting take over and invest with accurate accounting records and financial reports. The Hall Accounting team will manage your records from start to finish and make sure all adjustments are timely recorded. This option is also feasible for small businesses because it is cheap and hassle-free, at a fixed monthly rate.