Basic Facts about the W-2 Form

Due Dates, How to Complete, Where to Send

All About W-2 Forms
All About W-2 Forms. DNY59/Getty Images

What is a W-2 Form? 

A W-2 form is a statement that must be prepared by employers each year for employees, showing the employee's total gross earnings, Social Security earnings, Medicare earnings, and federal and state taxes withheld for the employee.

When is the W-2 Form Due? 

IMPORTANT CHANGE: Beginning with 2016 annual tax reports, forms W-2 and W-3 must be filed with the SSA by January 31, 2017. The change has been implemented in order to reduce tax fraud.

Read more about this change in this article about the 2017 annual payroll tax report deadlines. 

The W-2 Form must be provided to employees no later than the end of January, with information from the previous calendar year. This deadline hasn't changed. It means you must file W-2s with the Social Security Administration(SSA( at the same time as you provide forms to employees. This is a good reason to give employees their forms early in January, so you can find and fix errors before filing with the SSA. 

Copies of all employee W-2 forms, along with transmittal form W-3, must be sent to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The January 31, 2017, deadline applies to both mailed and online submissions to the SSA.

In previous years, the W-2 was due a month later, to give time for making corrections. Starting with January 2017 W-2s, you will probably want to give the W-2s to employees earlier, to give them time

The W-2 Form Explained

The W-2 form is a multi-part form:

  • Copy A goes to the Social Security Administration. Copy A is usually printed on a red form. (See the note about using only the official form printed by the IRS). 
  • 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 a city, state, or locality
  • Copy D is for the employer's records.

A copy of the W-2 forms for all employees, plus a consolidated report on Form W-3, must be sent to the Social Security Administration each year.

W-2 forms also provide information about deductions for employee benefit plans and other deductions that must be reported on the employee's income tax return.

Where Can I Get W-2 Forms? 

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

What Information Do I Need to Complete W-2 Forms?

You will need to have employee wage and salary totals for the past year, including gross pay and amounts withheld for federal and state income taxes and FICA taxes, and other specific information on employee benefits. This detailed list of information spells out the details. 

How Do I Complete the W-2 Form?

This article on how to complete the W-2 form walks you through the process step by step. Be sure to 

How Do I Send the W-2 Form? Can I Send These Forms Online? 

You send the W-2 form to the Social Security Administration, by the end of February.

Yes, you can submit these forms online to the SSA, using their Business Online service. 

What If I Make a Mistake on a W-2 Form? 

Before you send off those forms to employees, check for these common 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, here's the process for correcting the form. You must also re-submit the W-3 transmittal form.