What Is a W-2? How to Read the Form

If you work full-time for a paycheck and earn at least $600 during the year, you can expect a W-2 form from your employer during tax season. IRS Form W-2, or a “Wage and Tax Statement” is a tax form that reports the wages an employee earned during the year, as well as any taxes their employer withheld. This is an essential form you need to file your taxes as it often determines the size of your refund — or if you’ll owe taxes.

CNBC Select explains how to get your W-2, what information it contains and how to include it in your tax return.

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What is the purpose of a W-2 form?


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What does the W-2 form tell you?

Here’s how to read your W-2 form:

When are W-2s sent out?

The IRS requires that employers provide employees and the government with W-2s by Jan. 31. Typically, you can expect to get your W-2s in the mail, although some employers send out electronic versions.

You should receive a W-2 from every employer that paid you $600 or more during the year — unless you’re an independent contractor, in which case you’ll receive Form 1099 instead.

That means that by mid-February, you should have all your W-2s. If that’s not the case, contact your employer. Your company’s HR department might not have the right address on file, or you might have missed communication about online access to your tax documents. Either way, getting in touch with your employer should usually solve the issue.

If that’s not the case, it may be a good idea to give the IRS a call at 800-829-1040. You’ll need to provide your name, address, phone number, Social Security number and dates of employment. The IRS will ask for your employer’s information too, including name, address and phone number. After the call, the IRS will contact your employer and request the missing W-2.

Remember that your taxes are due by April 15 (or April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts), whether or not you have all the required documents on hand. Make sure you have your W-2 well before then so you can file with time to spare.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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