How to File W-2 Forms Online

Avoid penalties and submit your forms electronically

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Business Tax Filing Questions
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If you have W-2 forms to file for annual wage reports for employees, the easiest way to file them is online. Here's what you need to know.

The Deadline for W-2 Forms

You'll file W-2 forms with the Social Security Administration (SSA), not the IRS.

The deadline to file W-2 forms with the SSA is January 31 of the following year. For 2019 W-2 forms, the filing deadline was Jan. 31, 2020; for 2020 W-2s, the deadline is Jan. 31, 2021. The change was made in 2015 to help prevent tax fraud, and the date applies to both paper and online submissions. Your filings will be considered on time if they are submitted by this date; filing online is an easy and convenient way to submit them.

You must give copies of W-2 forms to employees no later than Jan. 31 of the year following the tax year. It's a good idea to give completed W-2 forms to your employees early in January so they can look them over and you can make corrections if necessary before the deadline.

The Difference Between W-2 Forms and W-3 Forms

W-2 forms are used to report employee wages and salaries to the Social Security Administration. The SSA shares the information with the IRS for income tax purposes. 

You must issue a W-2 form to each employee from whom you've withheld FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) taxes, which are Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well as federal and state income taxes. You must also issue a W-2 form to anyone who should have had income tax withheld but did not for some reason.

W-3s are transmittal forms that must accompany W-2s. They summarize the information on all the W-2 forms you send to the SSA. If you e-file your W-2 forms with the SSA online using the Business Services Online (BSO) portal, it will automatically generate your W-3 forms. 

When Filing Online Is Required

If you file 250 or more W-2 forms during a calendar year, you must file them electronically unless the IRS grants you a waiver. You may be charged a penalty if you fail to file electronically when required.

Penalties are assessed for each form not filed or filed incorrectly. Penalties depend on how late the form is filed with the SSA or given to employees and vary depending on the size of your business. You may consider filing an extension application, then filing the forms as soon as possible to minimize penalties.

The Taxpayer First Act changed the requirement for filing certain annual information returns online (including W-2 forms for employees and 1099-MISC forms for non-employees).

  • Starting with the 2021 tax year, you must file online if your business has 100 W-2s to file
  • For tax years after 2021, you must file online if your business has 10 or more W-2s to file

There are also special rules for partnerships filing W-2s online:

  • For 2019, a partnership must file W-2s online if they have 150 or more members
  • For 2020, a partnership must file W-2s online if they have 100 or more members
  • For 2021, a partnership must file W-2s online if they have 50 or more members

You can begin filing W-2s online at any time to make sure you meet the requirement.

How to File Online

You can e-file W-2 forms online at the SSA's Business Services Online website. It is free and secure, and it's the method preferred by the SSA over submitting paper records.

The BSO offers two options. You can create up to 50 of these forms and print out copies to give to your employees. Or, if you use payroll software, you can upload a wage report to use in generating the forms.

The Benefits of E-Filing W-2 Forms 

E-filing saves time and effort and helps ensure accuracy. You don't have to calculate and submit a W-3 transmittal form because the Social Security Administration will generate a W-3 automatically when you submit your W-2s.

You can also submit W-2c (corrected W-2) forms at the BSO site to correct an error if you make a mistake in one or more W-2 forms after you have filed.

You can also use the BSO site to verify Social Security numbers for wage reporting purposes. The site offers a tutorial, handbooks, a checklist, and other useful information to help you e-file those forms.

Before You Submit the Forms Electronically

You must first register on the Social Security Administration's BSO website before you can submit your W-2 forms online. Once you've registered, you can create and save your W-2 forms using a special file format and submit them on the website.

You can view the uploaded files and see error reports after the files are submitted, including name and Social Security number mismatches. This allows you to make any necessary corrections.

You can also review the status of your submission and see whether the file has been accepted.

Article Sources

  1. IRS. "Topic No. 752 Filing Forms W-2 and W-3." Accessed May 27, 2020.

  2. Social Security. "Deadline Dates to File W-2s." Accessed May 27, 2020.

  3. IRS. "Reminder: Employers Must File Forms W-2 by Jan. 31 This Year." Accessed May 27, 2020.

  4. IRS. "General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3," Page 3. Accessed May 27, 2020.

  5. U.S. Congress. H.R. 3151. "Sec. 2301. Electronic Filing of Returns," Page 32. Accessed May 27, 2020.

  6. Social Security. "What You Can Do Online." Accessed May 27, 2020.