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Can You File Taxes Without a W-2? Here’s What You Need to Know

Trying to file a tax return without a W-2 isn’t ideal, but don’t panic. Here’s how you can take action.

March 4, 2022

Preparing taxes is stressful at the best of times, but it reaches a whole new level if you realize you’re missing one of the most crucial parts of the process: the W-2 form. Maybe you lost yours, never received it in the first place or are reluctant to contact a previous employer after ending things on a bad note. 

So, can you file taxes without your W-2? And if not, what do you need to do to get a hold of it?

You’re right to be concerned. The filing deadline for the 2021 tax year might seem far away, but it’s fast approaching. We’ll clear your doubts by:

  • Running through how W-2 IRS forms work

  • How necessary they are for filing taxes 

  • What taxpayers should do if they don’t have one

  • Some information about additional tax forms

W-2s: The basics

Before we answer the main question, let’s review how W-2s work. 

A W-2 form details the wages received over the last calendar year (including tips), as well as the local, state and federal income tax withheld from them. It also includes other tax information, such as employer-paid health insurance premiums and contributions to 401(k)s or health savings accounts (HSA).

The first crucial detail is that W2s are only for employees. If you’re an independent contractor, you’ll need a 1099-MISC form instead (note that this applies to freelancers and those working in the gig economy).

Although the bulk of this article is focused on whether you can file taxes without a W-2 form, we’ll also cover how to deal with missing 1099s. You might need both a 1099 and a W-2 form in some cases.

Another important detail is that it shouldn’t be your responsibility to get hold of a W-2. Your employer should send you the form by January 31, with plenty of time for the 2021 tax deadline of April 18, 2022.

If you worked multiple jobs in the same calendar year or more than one job at one time, you should receive a W-2 from each.

Can you file taxes without a W-2?

The short answer is yes. You can file taxes without a W-2. But it’s not ideal because even if you don’t have your W-2, you’ll still need the information it contains to fill out your tax return.

Some of the information you’ll need is easy enough to obtain, like your employer’s name and address, while other details are much trickier to get hold of, such as information about the taxes withheld. Fortunately, there are a few solutions.

(Keep in mind even if you don’t have your W-2, it’s important not to miss the filing deadline. You’ll still face a penalty for submitting your tax form late.)

Ask your employer

According to the IRS website, your first step should be directly contacting the employer that owes you the W-2. In some cases, failure to receive a W-2 could be a simple mistake, such as an administrative error or the wrong address on file. If you’ve recently moved, this could have resulted in confusion.

Contact the IRS

If you haven’t received anything by the beginning of February, it’s time to get in touch with the IRS. 

In this case, the IRS will need some details from you:

  • Personal information, such as name, address, phone number and Social Security number

  • Employer information, including name, address, phone number, and employer identification number (EIN) if you have it

  • Dates of employment

  • Estimation of wages and federal income tax withheld from your last pay stub

After receiving everything above, the IRS will contact your employer directly. A call from the taxman is often significantly more effective than a call from an employee.


Import using tax software

In some cases, you may be able to import your W-2 form using tax software, such as TurboTax or H&R Block. The exact process will vary depending on the software you use, but you’ll need to enter your employer’s identification number and wait for your W-2 to be available for download. You may be able to search for your company’s EIN or retrieve it from a prior year’s tax return.

However, not all tax software supports all employers, so this won’t be a solution for everyone.

Use a Form 4852

If you’re unable to get ahold of your W-2, the best alternative is to file a Form 4852 with your best possible estimations. Form 4852 serves as a substitute for form W-2 and is the IRS’s solution for employees who received an incorrect W-2 or no W-2. 

Then, if you get a W-2 after you file and the information doesn’t match your estimations, you should submit an amended return using Form 1040X.

To figure out how much money you earned and what was withheld for various taxes, you can do the calculations yourself using pay stubs. (If you don’t have them, ask your employer.) If you’re uncomfortable doing the calculations yourself, a tax professional, such as a CPA, could help you reach a more accurate estimation.

Remember that filing a Form 4852 may delay your refund as the IRS will need to verify the information.

What about 1099s?

If you’re self-employed or a contractor, you’ll need to file a 1099 instead of a W-2. 1099s are similar to W-2s, but they don’t contain information about social security, medicare taxes or withheld income (since there’s no employer to do the withholding). 

It’s the responsibility of the companies you contract for to send you a 1099, and they should do so if you receive $600 or more from them in the same calendar year. But remember, you’re still responsible for claiming the income, even if you fail to receive a 1099.

That leads to our next question: Can you file taxes without a 1099? 

Yes. It’s certainly easier for you to prepare your taxes with the 1099s in hand. So, if you fail to receive one, you can take the same actions as above by contacting the company and then the IRS if you still don’t receive one. 

However, it’s also possible to report your self-employment or contractor income based on your records. As a self-employed individual, you likely have a log of your received payments and invoices, and you can add up this information to determine how much income you earned.

Can you file taxes with no income?

Since W-2s are received from an employer, it goes without saying that you won’t receive one if you weren’t employed and didn’t earn any income during the year. But should and can you still file taxes?

Usually, you don’t need to file if you earn less than the IRS standard deduction for a given year, and anyone earning $0 falls into that category by default. 

However, don’t forget that earnings from something other than an employee or contractor position can be taxable (e.g., gambling) — so you might find that your income isn’t zero after all. Alternatively, you might file if you’re eligible for tax credits, which you can receive in the form of a tax refund.

Regardless, it’s possible to file a tax return without any income at all, and you can do so without a W-2 form.

If you’re unsure if you need to file a tax return or if you should, you can use the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant or speak to a tax preparer.

You can still file without your W-2 or 1099

During tax season, it’s easy to slip into panic if you didn’t receive or can’t find your W-2 or 1099, especially if you don’t exactly consider yourself a tax pro. But don’t worry, there are options for you so you don’t miss the tax filing deadline.  

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