You are familiar enough with the tax laws to know that you should receive a "Wage and Tax Statement" (also known as a Form W-2), from every one of the employers for whom you worked during the year. You need it to prepare your federal, state, and local income tax returns because it contains a summary of your taxable and non-taxable wages along with all the taxes, both income and social security, that have been withheld.

Your employer should mail those forms out to both you and the Internal Revenue Service by the first Monday in February. Therefore, if you have not received it by the end of that week, you should start your search by contacting the employer to see if it was mailed and if so, whether it was mailed to the correct address. A Form W-2 mailed to the wrong address might have been returned to the employer, and the problem is solved by a simple address update.

If your employer states that the forms are going to be mailed "really soon," give him or her until the middle of February. At that time, if you still have not received the required statement, you should gather the following information to prepare yourself for a telephone call to the Internal Revenue Service:

  • Employer's name, address, telephone number, and identification number. You might be able to get the identification number from a pay stub.
  • Your name, address, telephone number, and Social Security number.
  • An estimate of the wages you earned during the year, the federal income tax withheld, and the dates you started and ended employment, if applicable. (This information can be obtained from your periodic pay stubs; now you know why you were keeping them!)

The fact that you have not received your W-2 does not excuse you from filing your personal income tax return on time. Of course, you will not be able to attach the required W-2, but you may use a substitute form provided by the IRS. Unfortunately, the use of this substitute form will delay the processing of any refund owed to you.

If you have lost your W-2, you should contact your employer to request a replacement. The employer can reissue your statement, but he or she is entitled to charge you a fee for this service.

Occasionally, an employer realizes that he or she has made an error on your W-2 and corrects it. If you receive a corrected form after you have filed your tax return, you are obligated to file an amended return with the proper information.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.