What Is Form W-2?

Tax Form W-2 Explained

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

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Form W-2 is the annual "Wage and Tax Statement" that reports your taxable income earned from an employer to you and to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 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.

Definition and Example of Form W-2

Earnings are reported to the recipient, as well to the IRS, on a series of informational forms each year. The W-2 is used only for employee earnings from which taxes have been withheld. It informs employees of the income they must claim on their tax returns and the payments they've already made through withholding.

Form W-2 also advises the IRS as to how much income the employee should be claiming and confirms what they've paid in taxes.

IRS Form W-2 2021

Who Uses a W-2 Form?

Employees are required to report all wages earned from their jobs on their 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.

You should receive three copies of your W-2, Copies B, C, and 2, detailing what you were paid and what was withheld:

  • Copy A is submitted to the Social Security Administration by your employer.
  • Attach Copy B to your federal income tax return if you're mailing it in. Keep it with your other tax documents for at least four years if you e-file your return.
  • Keep Copy C with your tax documents for at least four years as well. This is officially your copy.
  • Attach Copy 2 to your state tax return if you're mailing it in. Otherwise, keep it with your tax documents for at least four years as you would with Copy B.

Where to Get Form W-2

Employers must prepare a Form W-2 for each eligible employee. They must provide copies to the IRS and to the Social Security Administration. 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. It was due January 31, 2022, for 2021 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 might want to 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 at your fingertips, including:

You should also be able to provide at least an estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax that was 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 a 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 or salary. The number also includes any tips you reported to your employer, bonuses, and other taxable compensation. Taxable fringe benefits such as group term life insurance are included here, but Box 1 does not include any pretax benefits such as savings contributions to a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan, or health insurance. The number that appears in Box 1 is reported on Line 1 of the 2021 Form 1040.
  • Box 2 reports how much your employer withheld from your paychecks for federal income taxes. This number is reported on Line 25a of Form 1040.
  • 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 as of tax year 2021, increasing to $160,200 in 2022. This "wage base" is adjusted annually to adapt for inflation. Check with your employer if Box 3 shows an amount over the wage base. Tips that you've reported to your employer should not be included in Box 3. They're reported in Box 7.
  • 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 $8,853.60 for 2021 because the Social Security tax is a flat tax rate of 6.2% on your wage income up to the $142,800 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. You might find that the amount in Box 6 is greater than Box 5 multiplied by 1.45% if you earn a significant income. The Additional Medicare Tax adds an extra 0.9% for high earners.
  • Box 7 shows any tip income you've reported to your employer. It will be empty if you didn't report any tips. Box 7 and Box 3 should add up to the amount that appears in Box 1 if you don't have any pretax benefits, or it might be equal to the amount in Box 5 if you do receive pretax benefits. 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 is not included in the wages that are reported in Boxes 1, 3, 5, or 7. Instead, you must add your allocated tips to your taxable wages on Line 1 of your Form 1040. You must calculate your Social Security and Medicare taxes including this tip income using IRS Form 4137.
  • 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. Any amount over $5,000 should be reported as taxable wages in Boxes 1, 3, and 5. Dependent care benefits are reported on Form 2441.
  • 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 already included as taxable wages in Box 1.
  • Box 12 applies to deferred compensation and other compensation. Several types of compensation and benefits can be reported 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 determine what the code means.
  • Box 13 includes three check boxes. The first will be marked off if you're a statutory employee. This means that you would report the wages from this W-2, and any other W-2 forms you receive that are marked "statutory employee," on Schedule C of Form 1040. Your wages aren't subject to income tax withholding, so you should see a zero in Box 2, or it should be blank. Earnings are subject to Social Security and Medicare tax, however, so Boxes 3 through 6 should be filled out. These boxes will also be checked if you participated in your employer's retirement plan during the tax year, and they'll be checked if you received third-party sick pay under your employer's third-party insurance policy. 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, employer-paid tuition assistance, or after-tax contributions to a retirement plan can be 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 itemize your federal 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.

Enter the amounts in each box on the appropriate line of your tax return. Add the boxes together if you're married and filing a joint return and if both you and your spouse have W-2s.

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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. "Employment Tax Recordkeeping."

  3. IRS. "2022 General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3," Pages 2, 6.

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

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

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

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