What Is Form W-2?

A chart with various icons explaining What to Do With Your W-2

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Form W-2 is an IRS document that reports the taxable income you earned from an employer. The form also includes taxes withheld from your pay, as well as Social Security and Medicare payments made on your behalf by both you and your employer.

Key Takeaways

  • Form W-2 reports earnings from employment, and taxes withheld from those earnings, to both an employee and to the IRS.
  • Employees use this information to prepare their annual tax returns.
  • Employers generally have until January 31 to send employees W-2 forms for the previous tax year.
  • You can contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 if an employer won’t or doesn’t give you a Form W-2 by mid-February of the new year.

How Form W-2 Works

The W-2 is used only for employee earnings from which taxes have been withheld. Your employer reports those earnings to you and the IRS on a series of informational forms each year. Additionally, a W-2 tells you the income you must claim on your tax returns and the payments you've already made through withholdings. Form W-2 also advises the IRS about how much income you should be claiming and confirms what they've paid in taxes.

Form W-2


Who Uses a W-2 Form?

You're required to report all wages earned from your jobs on your annual tax returns. You should receive a Form W-2 from your employer, whether you're a part-time or full-time worker, if you've earned $600 or more in income from that company during the tax year.

Your W-2 has five copies: A, 1, B, C, 2, and D:

  • Your employer submits Copy A to the Social Security Administration by your employer.
  • Copy 1 is what your employer sends to your state, city, or local tax department.
  • Attach Copy B to your federal income tax return. Keep it with your other tax documents for at least four years if you file your return online.
  • Keep Copy C with your tax documents for at least four years as well. This is your official copy.
  • You'll attach Copy 2 to your state tax return when you file online or by mail. Keep the hard copy with your tax documents for at least four years if you file online.
  • Copy D is for your employer to keep.

Where To Get Form W-2

Employers must prepare a Form W-2 for each eligible employee. Typically, employers must mail or hand deliver your Form W-2 to you no later than January 31 for the previous tax year—for example, January 31, 2023, for 2022 earnings.

What To Do if You Don't Receive Form W-2

Ask your employer when Forms W-2 were mailed out to employees if you don't receive yours by mid-February. You can also ask for another printed copy of your W-2. Some employers may charge a nominal fee for providing you with an additional copy.

You can contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040 if you think it's possible that your employer did not send out W-2s or if your employer refuses to give one to you. Make sure you have certain information ready, including:

You should also be able to provide at least an estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax your employer withheld, and the dates that you began and ended employment if you're no longer working there. This information should be available on your pay stubs.


The IRS might ask you to file Form 4852 with your tax return if you’re unable to get your W-2 from your employer. This form acts as a substitute for Form W-2.

You can also ask your employer to correct any wrong information on your Form W-2. Your Social Security number might be incorrect, your name might be misspelled, or your wages and withholding amounts might be inaccurate.

How To Read Your W-2 Form

Boxes A through F all provide identifying information: your Social Security number, your employer's tax ID number or EIN, everyone's addresses, and their full legal name. Box D is a control number that identifies your unique Form W-2 document in your employer's records.

The numbered boxes on Form W-2 record your financial information:

  • Box 1 reports your total taxable wages, tips you reported, salary, bonuses, and other taxable compensation and fringe benefits. Box 1 does not include any pretax benefits such as contributions to a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan, or health insurance.
  • Box 2 reports how much your employer withheld from your paychecks for federal income taxes.
  • Box 3 reports the total amount of your wages that are subject to Social Security tax. This tax is assessed on wages up to $147,000 for tax year 2022. This "wage base" is adjusted annually to adapt for inflation.
  • Box 4 reports the total amount of Social Security taxes withheld from your paychecks. The figure shown in Box 4 should be no more than $9,114 for tax year 2022 (6.2% on your wage income up to the $147,000 Social Security wage base).
  • Box 5 reports the amount of your wages that are subject to the Medicare tax. There's no maximum wage base for Medicare.
  • Box 6 reports how much in taxes was withheld from your paycheck for the Medicare tax. This is a flat rate tax of 1.45% of your total Medicare wages. Box 6 will be greater than Box 5 multiplied by 1.45% because the IRS will assess an Additional Medicare Tax of 0.9% on top of 1.45% for dollars earned over $200,000.
  • Box 7 shows any tip income you've reported to your employer. It will be empty if you didn't report any tips. The total of Boxes 7 and Box 3 should not exceed the Social Security wage base.


The amount from Box 7 is already included in Box 1.

  • Box 8 reports any tip income that was allocated to you by your employer. This amount should not be included in the wages that are reported in Boxes 1, 3, 5, or 7.
  • Box 10 reports any amounts you might have been reimbursed for dependent care expenses through a flexible spending account (FSA), or the dollar value of dependent care services provided to you by your employer. Reimbursements and services under $5,000 aren't taxable in tax year 2022. Any amount over $5,000 should be included in the amounts in boxes 1, 3, and 5.
  • Box 11 reports any payments that were distributed to you from your employer's non-qualified deferred compensation plan or a non-government Section 457 pension plan. The amount in Box 11 is included as taxable wages in Box 1.
  • Box 12 applies to deferred compensation and other compensation. You employer can preot several types of compensation and benefits in Box 12, so the IRS has simplified this as much as possible by allowing your employer to enter a single-letter or double-letter code followed by the dollar amount of your compensation. Ask your employer to find out what the code means.
  • Box 13 includes three check boxes that indicate if you're a statutory employee, if you participate in an employer retirement plan, and if you earn third-party sick pay. Your employer will check all that apply. Sick pay isn’t included in your Box 1 wages, although it is usually subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  • Your employer might report additional tax information in Box 14. Any amounts reported in this box should include a brief description of what they're for. Union dues, uniform payments, or nontaxable income are some of the things reported here.
  • Box 15 reports your employer's state and state tax identification number. 
  • Box 16 reports the total taxable wages you earned in that state. There might be multiple lines of information here if you worked for the same employer in multiple states.
  • Box 17 reports the total amount of state income taxes withheld from your paychecks for the wages reported in Box 16. These taxes might be deductible as part of the deduction for state and local income taxes on Schedule A of the IRS Form 1040 if you use itemized deductions.
  • Box 18 reports wages that are subject to local, city, or other state income taxes.
  • Box 19 reports the total taxes withheld from your paychecks for local, city, or other state income taxes. This amount might also be deductible as part of the deduction for state and local income taxes if you itemize your federal deductions on Schedule A.
  • Box 20 provides a brief description of the local, city, or other state tax being paid. The description might identify a particular city or it might identify a state tax such as state disability insurance (SDI) payments.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the purpose of the W-2 form?

The W-2 is intended to report to the IRS an employee's wages, taxes, and other aspects of their compensation from their employer.

Who should fill out the W-2 form?

Generally speaking, you'll fill out a W-2 if you're a full- or part-time employee of a company and earned at least $600.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. IRS. "About Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement."

  2. IRS. "Form W-2."

  3. IRS. "Employment Tax Recordkeeping."

  4. IRS. "January 31 Wage Statement Deadline Reminder for Employers."

  5. Paycor. "W-2 Employer Responsibilities."

  6. Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits: Maximum Taxable Earnings."

  7. IRS. "Topic No. 751 Social Security and Medicare Withholding Rates."

  8. IRS. "Employee Reimbursements, Form W-2, Wage Inquiries."

  9. IRS. "General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3." Pages 16-23.

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