The W-3 Form: Preparation and How to File
Filing Form W-3 with Form W-2 For Paper Filing
Form W-3 is a transmittal form with totals for all parts of Form W-2. The W-3, along with the W-2, is sent to Social Security Administration each year to show the total earnings for all W-2 forms. The official title of the form is "Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements."
The W-3 form is only used when you are sending paper copies of the W-2 form to the Social Security Administration. If you decide to file employee W-2 forms with the Social Security Administration online, you don't have to submit a W-3 transmittal form.
The W-2 Form and W-3 Form
The W-2 form is an annual wage and tax form sent to two different places:
- It's given to each employee, showing their total wages and taxes paid during the year, so they can use it for their income tax reporting, and
- It's filed with the Social Security Administration (NOT the IRS!) to verify the information given to the employee.
You must add up wages for all your employees, using the information on all employee W-2 forms to complete the W-3 form.
When a W-3 Form Must Be Filed
The deadline for giving W-2 forms to employees and sending W-2 and W-3 forms to the Social Security Administration is the same date: January 31 of the year following the tax year.
Because the date you give W-2 forms to employees and the date for filing W-2 and W-3 forms with the Social Security Administration is the same, you might want to give W-2 forms to employees earlier in January, to give more time to find errors.
If you don't think you'll be able to submit the W-2 and W-3 forms on time, you may request one 30-day extension by filing Form 8809 - Application for Extension of Time to File Information Returns. You must submit the application no later than the due date of the form. The extension isn't automatic, the IRS only grants extensions for "extraordinary circumstances or catastrophe."
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. You can order them from the IRS by visiting their online ordering page for information returns. You may also be able to find these forms on business tax software programs.
Completing Form W-3—Boxes A Through H
Before you start working on the form, make sure you have the correct year's version. You want the version for the tax year, not the year you are preparing the form. For example, use the 2020 version for reporting 2020 taxes, even though you may be working on the form in 2021.
Information about the employer is entered in boxes A through H
Box a. Optional control number you can use for your own business purposes.
Box b. Kind of Payer. Most businesses check the box labeled "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.
Kind of employer. Most for-profit businesses check the "none apply" box for "Kind of Employer". The other boxes are for non-profit organizations and federal government employers.
Box c Total number of Forms W-2. Add up the number of W-2 forms you are submitting.
Box d Establishment number helps employers identify different areas of their businesses either by location, subsidiary, or division. For example, you might want to separate out the W-2 forms for different states where employees work.
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 items in the second section (boxes 1 through 19) are the same for both the W-2 and W-3. In the W-3 form, you must give totals for all boxes for all employees.
The General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3 document includes reference guides for Box 12 Codes and Box 13 Retirement Plan Checkbox Decision Chart.
The final part of the form requires that you provide your contact information, including an email address.
See the detailed instructions for completing the W-3 form in this IRS publication: IRS General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3.
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 filing address for paper forms W-2 and W-3 is:
Social Security Administration
Direct Operations Center
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18769-0001.
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-2 and W-3 also include total state wages and withholding for all employees.
If You File W-2 Forms Online
The SSA encourages you to e-file W-2 forms. Remember, you don't need to include a W-3 form if you're filing online. You can use the SSA's Business Services Online (BSO) website. The BSO generates Form W-3 automatically based on your W-2 forms.
You MUST file online if you have a high number of W-2 forms.
- For years including 2019, before you must electronically file if you have 250 or more W-2 forms.
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.
IRS. General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3. "Reminders." Page 1. Accessed Apr. 25, 2020.
IRS. General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3. "Extension of time to file Forms W-2 with the SSA." Page 5. Accessed Apr. 25, 2020.
IRS. Form W-3. Accessed Apr. 25, 2020.
IRS. General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3. "E-filing." Page 3. Accessed Apr. 25, 2020.