When Do W-2s Come Out?

January 31, 2020
When Do W-2s Come Out?

Your Form W-2 impacts your federal and state tax filings. It’s therefore imperative that you get your W-2 on time. But what is a W-2? When should you receive it? How do you read a W-2? And what should you do if you find an error on your W-2? Read on for answers.

What is a W2?

IRS Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, is used by employers to report employees’ annual wages/salaries, taxes withheld, and other compensation. Your employer must:

  • Give you a W-2 if they paid you at least $600 for the year
  • File Copy A with the Social Security Administration
  • File Copy 1 with the state or local tax department, if you paid state or local taxes
  • Give you Copy B to file with your federal income tax return
  • Give you Copy 2 to file with your state or local tax return, if applicable
  • Give you Copy C to retain for your records

You must be an employee to get a W-2. If you’re an independent contractor, you should receive a Form 1099-MISC (not a W-2) from each of your clients that paid you at least $600 for the year.

When does a W2 come out?

Your employer has until January 31 to distribute W-2s (for the prior year) to employees. If the deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, your employer must furnish W-2s by the next business day. Employers that provide online access to W-2s must do so by January 31. Those that don’t supply online access must mail or hand-deliver W-2s no later than January 31. If don’t receive your W-2 by the deadline, let your employer know so they can resolve the issue.

How to read a W-2 form?

Though your W-2 is essentially about how much money you earned and the amount of taxes you paid, it’s also a detailed document. It shows, for instance, your retirement plan contributions, the amount your employer paid for your health insurance, and nontaxable income you received from your employer.

Here’s a breakdown of relevant W-2 boxes: 

  • Box 1:
    • Total wages — including salaries, tips, and other compensation — subject to federal income tax. Box 1 does not show pre-tax deductions or nontaxable wages.
  • Box 2:
    • Federal income tax withheld from your wages.
  • Box 3:
  • Box 4:
    • Social Security tax withheld from your wages.
  • Box 5:
    • Wages subject to Medicare tax. No annual wage limit applies to Medicare tax.
  • Box 6:
    • Medicare tax withheld from your wages. This includes regular Medicare tax, and if applicable, the additional Medicare tax of 0.9% for high-income earners.
  • Box 7:
    • Tips you reported (to your employer) that were subject to Social Security tax. This amount is also reflected in Box 1 wages.

  • Box 8:
    • Tips your employer allocated to you. This amount is not shown in Box 1 wages.
  • Box 10:
    • Dependent care benefits you received from your employer. If you contributed more than the annual pre-tax limit, the excess amount is taxable and includable in Box 1 wages.
  • Box 11:
  • Box 12:
    • Used to deliver information about various types of compensation and benefits, such as taxable group-term life insurance, elective deferrals to a 401(k) plan, Roth 401(k) contributions, adoption benefits, nontaxable sick pay, and cost of employer-sponsored health coverage. The following chart explains what goes in Box 12, plus accompanying codes:
Form W-2 Image Source: Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Source
  • Box 13:
    • Your employer must check whichever applies:
      • You’re a statutory employee

      • You contributed to your employer’s retirement plan

      • You received third-party sick pay

  • Box 14:
    • Other information your employer wants you to know, such as state disability insurance tax withheld, union dues, tuition assistance payments, health insurance premiums deducted, and uniform payments.
  • Box 16:
    • Wages subject to state income tax.
  • Box 17:
    • State income tax withheld from your wages.
  • Box 18:
    • Wages subject to local taxes, such as city or county taxes.
  • Box 19:
    • Local taxes withheld from your wages.

What if there’s an error on my W2 form?

If you see a mistake on your W-2 — such as incorrect name, incorrect Social Security Number, incorrect wages, or incorrect taxes withheld — let your employer know as soon as possible. Depending on the error, your employer may need to give you a corrected W-2 via Form W-2c, which you can then use to amend your tax returns if necessary. Having trouble getting your employer to correct your W-2?

Contact the IRS.


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