What to Do If You're Missing Form W-2

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Haven't filled out or filed your tax return yet? Even bothered to open the mail you got in January marked "Important Tax Information: Do Not Discard"?

It's time -- time to make sure you have everything you need to prepare your taxes and get them to the IRS on time. Among all of the reference materials you need, one of the most vital is your 2008 W-2 wage and withholding form.

Your employer (or employers, if you had multiple ones in '08) should have provided the form to you by Feb. 2. But what if it hasn't arrived just yet?

The Man knows what you earned
A missing W-2 form does not absolve you from reporting your wages and withholding. It's virtually certain that the wages will be reported to the IRS, and the IRS will then match those wages (or lack thereof) to your tax return. When IRS sees the mismatch, you'll receive a letter and a demand for payment for any additional taxes owed on the unreported wages. That demand is likely to include penalty charges, and trying to evade that penalty by whining about an unreceived W-2 form just won't cut it. It's up to you to track down those documents.

First, ask your employer for another copy. It might have gotten lost in the mail. You might have moved without providing your employer your new address. Or you might have left that employer without providing an appropriate forwarding address. Regardless, contacting your employer should solve the problem.

Assuming that there was just some address foul-up, the employer will generally be happy to reissue the W-2 form. You'll have to wait a reasonable time for the employer to process and/or mail the reissued form, but at least you'll know that it's on the way. And don't be shocked if your employer charges you a fee for providing you with a new W-2 form; the IRS has no problem with that.

There are other reasons that a W-2 form might not show up. Your employer might have gone out of business without cleaning up its payroll, or remained in business but failed to complete its W-2 paperwork yet. Even more nefariously, perhaps the employer isn't paying the appropriate payroll taxes and/or filing the appropriate payroll withholding and reporting forms. There's nothing a poor employee can do about these things -- or is there?

What to do
If you have made efforts to track down your W-2 form and have not been able to resolve the matter successfully, it might be time to go directly to the top. If you haven't received your W-2 form by now, your next step is a chat with the good folks at the IRS. Call (800) 829-1040, and be prepared to provide the following information:

  • The employer's name and complete address, including a ZIP code and telephone number.
  • The employer identification number (EIN), if possible. If you've worked for this employer for more than one year, you might find the EIN on your last year's W-2 form. You might also find it on one of your pay stubs. It's not necessary to have it, but it's very helpful.
  • An estimate of the wages and withholding. You can generally get this from your last pay stub with that employer. Or you can add up your various pay stubs to come up with an amount.
  • The date that you began and ended your employment with the employer.

Hopefully, with that information, the IRS can help you with contacting the employer and obtaining your W-2 form. But if that doesn't work, you have one final option: You can file Form 4852 with your tax return.

Form 4852 is a substitute wage and tax statement that you can use as an absolute last resort. You should file Form 4852 only if you can't get your actual W-2 form by the tax filing deadline date of April 15, 2009. It can't be used simply as a convenience for the employee, as opposed to trying to track down your employer and receiving your W-2 form.

In fact, if you review the Form 4852, you'll see a section where you have to report what steps you took to receive the W-2 form. And Form 4852 really is a last resort, since it will probably significantly delay the processing of your tax return (and refund, if you're receiving one). Worse yet, if the IRS finds a W-2 form in its electronic files for your employer, it'll notify you of the difference, and you might be responsible for filing an amended tax return to make the appropriate corrections.

Here's hoping you won't run into this problem. But if you're still missing your W-2 form by the time you read this, these steps and instructions should help.

Need a hand filing your taxes?

This article, written by Roy Lewis, was originally published on Feb. 16, 2007. It has been updated by Dan Caplinger. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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