How to File W-2 Forms

Form W-2 Explained

Female employer sitting with male employee at a desk, smiling and holding paperwork
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IRS Form W-2 details information about an employee's gross pay, Social Security and Medicare pay, federal and state income tax withholding, and other tax-related deductions. Employers must provide this statement to every employee who worked for their company during the tax year.

The form must be provided to employees and submitted to the Social Security Administration no later than Jan. 31 of the following year.

What Is Form W-2?

Form W-2 provides income and withholding information to employees for their income tax returns, and it provides the same information to the IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

It must be filed for every worker from whom income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes were withheld during the course of the year. An exception exists for employees who've claimed to be exempt from withholding on the W-4 forms they should have provided to their employers at the time of hiring.

IRS Form W-2

Who Uses Form W-2?

Form W-2 is provided to employees, not independent contractors, freelancers, and other non-employees such as vendors. You would use Form 1099-MISC instead to provide income information to these individuals. Most non-employees must receive a 1099-MISC form if you've paid them $600 or more in the previous year. 

Check with a tax professional if you're unsure whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, because it can be an important distinction with serious implications if you should misclassify an employee. You can also file Form SS-8 with the IRS, asking them to decide the issue for you.

Where to Get Forms W-2

You can get W-2 forms from your local office supply store, from your CPA, or you can access them online from the IRS. You can also get W-2 forms from most business tax preparation programs.

Unlike many other tax forms, you can't download and print out W-2 forms from the IRS website, however. Copy A is a specific color of red ink and only originals bearing this color can be submitted. 

How to Fill Out Form W-2

You can prepare W-2 forms manually using a fillable PDF form on the SSA website, or you can do so using the small business version of most tax preparation software programs. You can also use a tax preparation service, business tax preparation software, or a payroll service to prepare, file, and send out W-2 forms. 

Some common errors are commonly made on Form W-2. Take a few minutes to make sure everything is correct before you give the forms to your employees, and before you submit them to the SSA.

The boxes on the form are all clearly labeled, telling you exactly what information you should enter in each space. But one common mistake employers make is not reporting the cost of health care insurance provided to employees. This information goes in boxes 12a through 12d and instructions are provided with the form.

You'll have to go through a correction process with the SSA to remedy any errors you make on these forms. 

Can Forms W-2 Be E-Filed?

Forms W-2 can be e-filed on the SSA's website, but you must first register with the SSA's Business Services Online. The site offers various other helpful services as well.

You would submit only an electronic copy of Copy A if you select this option. Keep Copy A and give the other copies to the employee. 

Where to Mail Forms W-2

The SSA provides a list of addresses on its website for mailing paper W-2 forms. The address you'd use depends on whether you're filing an original or a corrected W-2, and whether you're using the U.S. Postal Service or a private carrier like FedEx.

How to File Forms W-2

W-2 forms, along with a W-3 form, must be submitted to SSA no later than Jan. 31 of the following year. The deadline for giving W-2 forms to employees is also Jan. 31. Form W-3 is a transmission form used to add up all the information on individual W-2 forms into a total for the SSA.

You don't have to submit a W-3 transmission form if you submit your W-2s online to the SSA, but you'll need this form if you're filing by mail.

There are fines and penalties for filing W-2s late, but you can apply for a 30-day extension if you're running out of time. The extension isn't granted automatically, however. You must provide a detailed explanation of why the extension is necessary. 

Key Takeaways

  • Forms W-2s must be provided to each of a business’s employees, as well as to the Social Security Administration for each employee who had income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes withheld from their pay at any point during the year.
  • The form cites earnings and amounts of taxes withheld.
  • Forms W-2 can be easily filed online using the Social Security Administration’s Business Services Online.
  • The deadline for submission to employees and to the Social Security Administration is Jan. 31 of the year following the year in which earnings were paid.