It happens more often than you might think—you receive your W-2 and get ready to do your taxes, then you notice that the wages reported on there seem to be wrong. You double-check against your own records and realize that the information is indeed incorrect. You have to get the situation fixed, and you have to do it quickly because the clock is ticking toward the tax-filing deadline. You have a few options, and the rules and guidelines are pretty black-and-white.
Contact Your Employer
Make sure the information on your W-2 really is in error. Sometimes the amounts shown are slightly different from the amounts reported on your final pay stub of the year. The W-2 might include adjustments in taxable income or tax-free benefits. If you have verified any errors, the first step is to contact your employer (or their HR/payroll department) to make them aware of the issue and request that they send a new, correct W-2 form to you by the end of February.
If you are filing taxes electronically, you correct the original Form W-2 information entered once you receive a correct W-2. There is no requirement to send the W-2C form if you electronically file as the IRS will receive a copy from the employer. Make sure you enter the correct information from Form W-2C and then complete the tax return as normal.
While there is no specific deadline, employers should correct errors on Form W-2 and send a W-2C form as quickly as possible. The penalty for filing an incorrect W-2 with the Social Security Administration (SSA) increases over time.
Contact the IRS
Contact the IRS for help if your W-2 if there are significant inaccuracies or if you're concerned that your employer is improperly withholding or failing to withhold federal income and employment taxes The IRS will investigate the matter directly.
You can call toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 or visit a Taxpayer Assistance Center. The IRS will send your employer a letter instructing them to issue a corrected version within 10 days.
You can file your tax return reporting what you think is the correct amount of wages and withholding using Form 4852, the "Substitute for Form W-2," and the IRS will advise you of this option when you reach out to them. You'll have to reference your pay stubs if you use this form.
When you contact the IRS, make sure you not only have your taxpayer info, but your employer's or payer's name and complete address including ZIP code, employer identification number (EIN) if known, and phone number.
If Bankruptcy Is the Problem
If your employer has gone bankrupt or is out of business, there might be another way to solve the problem. According to the IRS, it's sometimes possible for an employee to follow up directly with the bankruptcy court in this case. The bankruptcy trustee might be able to provide a corrected W-2 rather than the employee having to use Form 4852.
Contact the bankruptcy court in your area if you find yourself in this situation. Ask how you can contact the trustee who is overseeing your previous employer's bankruptcy case, then reach out and explain your problem.
Errors with Other Information
W-2 errors aren't limited to income and withholding discrepancies. The spelling of your name, a name change due to marriage or divorce, your address, or your Social Security number (SSN) might be wrong, too, but this is usually a much easier fix.
It should be a simple matter to ask your employer to correct your name or your SSN, although you'll probably have to provide proof of your number.
The company might charge you a small fee for a replacement W-2 if the error is the result of you providing the company with the wrong identifying information when you completed and submitted your Form W-4 when you began employment.
As for a wrong address—maybe you've moved since you began working for this employer and you failed to update your information with the company—this is typically an issue that can be solved easily. You can go ahead and submit the W-2 with your tax return as long as your correct and current address is cited on your Form 1040. You'll want to let your employer know of the change, however.
The Bottom Line
A simple human or computer error can often be the cause of receiving an incorrect W-2. If handled in a timely fashion by both the employee and employer, the error can be amended and the proper taxpayer information can be delivered to the IRS without fear of penalty.
If you feel like you need an accountant to help you because your W-2 is wrong, look for an enrolled agent, a certified public accountant, or a tax attorney. These professionals can talk to the IRS on your behalf without you being physically present.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What happens if I receive a corrected W-2 after I file my taxes with a Form 4852?
If the corrected W-2 and the Form 4852 contain the same information, you don't have to do anything. If the corrected W-2 is different from the Form 4852, you must file an amended return, Form 1040-X, with the new W-2.
How long does an employer have to send a W-2?
Employers must send W-2 forms by January 31.
What if my W-2 has the wrong address?
If you've received your W-2 with all correct information except for the address, it's ok to file your taxes with the W-2. The important thing is that your address on your tax return is correct.