Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
Also known as the Wage and Tax Statement, a W-2 form is a document an employer is required to send in January to each of their employees and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It reports an employee’s wage/salary and tax withholding information for the previous year. The W-2 is an important form for preparing federal and state tax returns.
W-2 forms are only given to employees. Independent contractors or those who are self-employed will receive an earnings statement on a Form 1099 rather than a W-2. W-2s are also given out by third-parties who provided sick pay to any employee in the tax year.
The W-2 form shows an employee’s wages, tips, and salary information for the previous tax year (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31). It also reports the amount of federal, state, and other taxes (Medicare and Social Security) the employer withheld from paychecks.
If the employer provided dependent care benefits, distributions from nonqualified deferred compensation plans, or retirement plan contributions, that will also be included on the W-2. Identifying information for the employee (name, address, and social security number) and employer (name, address, EIN number, and state ID number) is also on the form.
Employers are required to send employees a W-2 on or before Jan. 31 each year. Therefore, the quickest way to get a current year W-2 form is to ask the employer. However, if necessary, someone may be able to get what they need from the Social Security Administration or IRS.
From the Social Security Administration
Employers first submit W-2 forms to the Social Security Administration (SSA), who then processes them and transmits the information to the IRS. SSA can give copies or printouts of W-2 Forms from 1978 to the present. The cost is free if the W-2 is needed for a Social-Security related reason; otherwise, there is a fee of $81.
NOTE: State and local tax information are not available if tax returns were e-filed.
From the IRS
If an individual wants a copy of a W-2 that has already been submitted with a tax return, they can get it from the IRS—but only if it was sent in with a paper tax return, not filed electronically.
Another option is to order a wage and income transcript from the IRS, which will show the income information the IRS received, not the actual W-2.
This is a question often asked by employees. W-2s are not found online, although some companies have a system where employees can import their W-2 from a website. W-2s are only issued by an employer and should be saved.
By law, an employer is required to send a W-2 form on or before Jan. 31 to every employee who was paid a salary, wage, or other form of compensation. This doesn’t include self-employed or contracted workers, but does apply to statutory employees (independent contractors who qualify for employee treatment).
Employers withhold the employee portion and contribute the employer portion of FICA taxes from the wages of a statutory employee. However, they are not required to withhold federal, state, or local income taxes.
Throughout the year, employers also use W-2 forms to report FICA taxes for their employees to the SSA.