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What to know about IRS W-2

5 min read

5 min read

Nearly every employee working in the U.S. should receive a Form W-2, but not everyone knows what it is. For many, the information on Form W-2 may seem foreign and complex. But don’t worry if you’re not sure what’s on this document. We’re here to help you make sense of it all.

Read on to learn more about the W-2 tax form, how to understand what’s on the W-2, and what you should do with your W-2 tax statement.

What is a W-2?

Form W-2

Are you wondering, “What is a W-2?” Simply stated, the IRS Form W-2 is a wage and tax statement that reports your taxable wages and the taxes withheld from your wages. However, if you’ve ever looked at a W-2 form, you’ll notice that it has several lines of information and lots of boxes and codes on it other than the taxable wage information.

There’s a lot to unpack where form W-2 is concerned. So, whether you just want an overview or a deep dive, we’re here to help you understand your W-2 form.

When do you get your W-2?

Your employer is required to give you a W-2 Form by Jan. 31 each calendar year.  Plus, a copy of your W-2 form is sent to:

  • Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • State or local governments for which taxes are withheld or wages are subject to tax

Understanding your IRS W-2 form

As mentioned, there are a lot of codes and boxes on a W-2 form, which makes it difficult for some to read. If you’re looking for a breakdown, check out this post on  W-2 box codes or a deep dive into W-2, box 12.

Don’t want to go line-by-line? Below is an overview of items the W-2 will cover:

  • Your personal and employer information – This type of W-2 form information includes tax identification numbers, addresses, etc.
  • Money and taxes related to your wages – This includes your actual income, federal income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes. This is the part most people think of regarding an IRS W-2 form.
  • Money and taxes related to your benefits – This includes retirement plans, insurance plans, dependent care benefits, and health savings accounts. Amounts for these items may not appear on your Form W-2 if your employer doesn’t offer these benefits.
  • Money and taxes for your state and local returns – The W-2 form should also include income and tax withholding information for your home state and any state where you worked as an employee, as well as local tax information if there are any that apply to your wages.
  • Payment information for other items paid through your wages – Some common examples include union dues, sick leave, tuition assistance, charitable giving, and certain fringe benefits.

Get additional guidance on how to read a W-2.

What to do with your W-2 form

Whether you file on your own or get help from a tax pro, you’ll need your W-2 to start the process. Many of the amounts will go on your federal tax return or state tax return.

“How can I get my W-2 from a previous employer?”

Getting a W-2 might be straightforward if you’ve only had one employer within a tax year, but if you’ve had multiple you’re probably wondering, “How can I get my W-2 from a previous employer?”

Your former employer is required by the IRS to mail you a copy of your W-2 before January 31. If you don’t receive it in that period, you should take action.

First, contact your former employer. The best place to start is the HR department or payroll office. If you worked for a smaller company, reach out to your immediate supervisor, and they can point you in the right direction.

When you contact the right person, confirm they sent the form to the proper mailing address. If the form was sent to the wrong address, ask them to resend it via email, mail, or sometimes even a secured portal sent from an employer. Or, if you live around your former business, you may be able to pick it up.

If you can’t reach your former employer, they ignore your request, or you haven’t received the form by the end of February, you should contact the IRS.

“How can I get my W-2 online for free?”

Finding forms online of any kind is convenient and time saving. This probably prompts the question, “How can I get my W-2 online for free?” Luckily, with H&R Block’s free W-2 Early Access℠ service, many taxpayers can get their W-2 online for free. Simply look to see if your employer is in our network, request an electronic form W-2 copy and have it sent to your local H&R Block office. All you do is pick it up — then you can get started on your taxes.

Learn more about W-2 Early Access (service temporarily unavailable).

Help filing your W-2 tax form

Now that we have covered “What is a W-2 form?” and addressed the important parts of the form, you can file your federal and state taxes with ease. If you need hands-on guidance with your W-2 or other important tax forms? Whether you choose to file online or want to file your taxes with a tax professional, we’re here for you.

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