What Business Owners Need To Know About W-2 Form

How To Complete It, When To File, and Where To Send It

Definition

A W-2 form is a statement that employers must prepare and file each year for their employees. It shows an employee's total earnings, Social Security earnings, Medicare earnings, and the federal and state withholding tax.

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Key Takeaways

  • Employers must prepare a W-2 form for each employee at the end of every tax year, showing payments, withholding, and benefits information. 
  • You must give a copy of the W-2 form to each employee and send all forms to the Social Security Administration (SSA) by January 31 of the year following the tax year.
  • The best way to submit W-2 forms to the SSA is electronically but you can send in paper W-2s by mail if you have fewer than 250 forms to submit.   

How a W-2 Form Works

The W-2 form provides employees with information that must be included in their income taxes. It also gives the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information to verify the employee's income tax return.

You must give W-2 forms to your  employees by the end of January of the year following the tax year. For example, if you are reporting on employee income for 2022, you must give it to them by January 31, 2023. The deadline to file is the same as the deadline to give the W-2 form to employees and file it with the SSA, which means that you’ll need to file W-2 forms for all employees with the SSA by January 31 of the year after the tax year.

Where To Send Copies

A W-2 form is a multipart form:

  • Copy A goes to the Social Security Administration
  • Copy 1 is for the city, state, or locality
  • Copy B is for filing with the employee's federal tax return
  • Copy C is for the employee's records
  • Copy 2 is another copy for the employee’s city, state, or locality
  • Copy D is for the employer's records

Where to Get W-2 Forms 

You can't just copy the W-2 form from the internet. Copy A of the form is printed on special paper, so you must use the official forms. You can get the official W-2 forms from the IRS, a copy shop, some tax software programs, or your tax preparer. 

How to File W-2 Forms with Social Security

You can file W-2 forms by mail or online.

Filing by Mail

You can send the SSA paper copies for the W-2s for all employees. If you file by mail you will need to include a W-3 form, which is the transmittal form that shows the totals for all boxes on the W-2 form.

The address for filing paper forms W-2 and W-3 is "Social Security Administration, Direct Operations Center, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18769-0001."

Filing Online

The SSA encourages employers to file online. You can register and use the SSA's Business Services Online site. If you file W-2s online, you don't need to include the W-3 form. You must file online if you have 250 or more W-2 forms to file.

Information Needed to Complete W-2 Forms

To complete the W-2 form, you'll need information on your business, on the employee, and on the employee's earnings, withholding, and benefits.

Information About Your Business

For each W-2, you will need to include information about your business. You’ll need to put down your Employer Identification Number as well as your business’s name, address, and state tax ID number.

Employee Information

In order to fill out W-2s, you'll need to have each employee’s name, address, and Social Security Number or tax identification number.

Employee Earning Information

You will need information on total wages and withholding for each employee for the tax year in question:

  • Total wages, tip income, and other compensation
  • Total Social Security wages (up to the Social Security maximum)
  • Total Medicare wages
  • Social Security tips and allocated tips

Tip

Wages used to calculate Social Security and Medicare may be different from an employee's gross pay. Check with your tax professional before you calculate wages on Form W-2.

Information About Retirement Plans

In Box 13 of each W-2 you will need to indicate if the employee participates in a retirement plan or a non-qualified plan with your company, if this employee is a statutory employee, or if the person received third-party sick pay.

Where to Find Information for the W-2 Form

The information for this form comes from your payroll register, which should have year-to-date totals for each employee’s wages and withholding, as well as deductions for medical plans, health savings accounts, and other items. 

You will also need each employee to fill out a current W-4 form so you have the necessary information when withholding federal income tax and FICA tax (Social Security/Medicare tax). The employee completes the W-4 form to give you information on their taxpayer ID number and withholding amounts.

Correcting Mistakes on W-2 Forms

Before you send W-2 forms to employees, check for errors. If you do make a mistake, you can easily correct the form and give the corrected form back to the employee. If the mistake is discovered after you have submitted the forms to the Social Security Administration, you must follow a specific process to correct the form. If you find the error after you have submitted the original forms, you must submit a W-2c form and a W-3c form.

Warning

W-2 forms can be complicated, and there are penalties for giving incorrect information. Get help from a payroll expert or your tax professional before you attempt to complete W-2 forms yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a W-2 Form?

The W-2 form records information that employees must use when preparing their personal tax returns. The information includes wages, tips or other compensation, federal and state income tax withheld, Social Security and Medicare wages and tips, and information on certain employee benefits.

Who must file a W-2?

An employer must file a W-2 for any employee who performed services for the business during a year if: 

  • The employer withheld any income, Social Security, or Medicare tax from the employee’s wages, no matter the amount
  • The employer paid the employee $600 or more in wages for the year, even if there was no withholding
  • The employee claimed exemption from withholding on Form W-4

How do I get W-2 forms?

You can get W-2 and W-3 forms directly from the IRS by ordering online. You may also be able to use W-2 forms provided by business tax software services or office supply companies. Look in the upper right corner to make sure you have the correct year for these forms.

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Sources
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. "Topic No. 752 Filing Forms W-2 and W-3."

  2. Social Security Administration. "Deadline Dates to File W-2s."

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

  4. IRS. "2022 Form W-3."

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