The W-3 Form: Preparation and How to File

Form W-3 accompanies the W-2 forms sent to the SSA

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Form W-3 is a transmittal form that's sent to the Social Security Administration to show the total earnings, Social Security wages, Medicare wages, and withholding for all employees in the previous year. The official title of the form is "Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements." You must add up wages for all your employees in each category, using all employee W-2 form and the W-2 totals to complete the W-3 form.

It's also given to each employee, showing their total wages and taxes paid, so they can submit this information on their personal income tax returns.​

When a W-3 Form Must Be Filed 

You must submit a W-3 form along with all W-2 forms for all employees before the end of January of the following tax year. When you've prepared W-2s for your employees for the tax year 2018, you would submit all of them plus the transmittal Form W-3 by January 31, 2019. 

The January 31 deadline is the same for filing both paper forms and electronic filing. This date was changed in 2017. You must also give W-2 forms to employees by this date. It's a good idea to give the forms to employees earlier in January, however, so you have time to correct any errors before you submit everything to the SSA. 

Where You Can Get W-3 Forms 

You can't just copy a W-3 form or print it off the Internet because the form is printed with a special red ink. You must buy the required type of W-3 forms from the same place you buy your W-2 forms, or you can have your payroll processor or tax preparer complete them for you. 

Completing Form W-3—Boxes A Through H 

Information about the employer is entered in boxes A through H 

Most businesses checkbox 941 for "Kind of Payer". The 941 form is the quarterly wage and tax report form completed by most employers. Other options include a household employer and others. 

Most businesses would check the "none apply" box for "Kind of Employer". The other boxes are for non-profit organizations and federal government employers. 

The establishment number section is provided so employers can identify different areas of their businesses either by location, subsidiary, or division. You must separate out W-2 and W-3 forms for each establishment if you identify establishment numbers in this section, or you can combine all your establishments and submit all W-2 forms together along with one W-3 form. 

Boxes 1 Through 19—Wage and Tax Information 

The second section, numbered 1 through 19, corresponds with the numbered sections on Form W-2. You must provide totals for all W-2s you are submitting in these boxes. 

The final part of the form requires that you provide your contact information, including an email address. 

When and How to File Form W-3

Form W-3 form must be sent to the SSA along with Copy A of the W-2 forms for each employee. The totals for each item on the W-3 must equal the totals for all these items on all employee W-2 forms. The W-3 also includes total state wages and withholding for all employees.

If You File W-2 Forms Electronically

If you decide to file employee W-2 forms electronically, you don't have to compile all the W-2 information and submit a W-3 form. The IRS strongly suggests that you provide W-2 forms electronically to the Social Security Administration and, in fact, you must electronically file if you have 250 or more employees. 

The SSA has two options for electronic filing through its Business Services Online section: 

  • W-2 Online: You can use a fill-in W-3 form to submit up to 50 W-2 forms at a time.
  • File Upload: You can use specific payroll tax software that formats files to SSA specifications for Filing Forms W-2 Electronically (EFW2). 

If You Make a Mistake

If you make an error on a W-3 as a result of calculations or if one or more W-2s is incorrect, you must file a W-2c and a W-3c form with the Social Security Administration.