If you're anticipating a tax refund, you'd like to have that money in your hands, or in your bank account, as soon as possible. But, your employer doesn't have to send you a W-2 form until Jan. 31, delaying your ability to file and claim a refund. If you file your taxes electronically, you don't have to send in a copy of your W-2. You have a final pay stub that shows your total wages for the year and the taxes your employer withheld, so you could use that information to file your taxes and claim your refund. There are some considerations, however.
You can e-file your taxes with your last paystub, but you'll have to fill out and submit IRS Form 4852.
Most people can file their tax returns electronically. Doing so usually means you'll receive your refund faster. You can purchase or download tax software that will allow you to e-file for a small fee. If your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less, you can file online for free with the Internal Revenue Service FreeFile software. When you send your return electronically, you report information from any W-2 and 1099 forms you receive, but you don't have to mail in the forms to the IRS. Instead, the IRS compares the information you supply with the copies of your W-2s and 1099s that it receives from the companies that issued the forms to you.
Pay Stub vs. W-2
The e-file forms ask you to fill in all the information you can find on your W-2. While your final pay stub may show most of this information, including the total wages you received and the income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes your employer withheld, the stub probably doesn't contain other important information you need, such as your employer's federal tax identification number. The name and address you provide on your tax form also has to match the information your employer provides on your W-2. An incomplete form or a form that has information that doesn't match IRS records will delay processing of your return, and hold up your refund. Because of this you'll need to fill out Form 4852, the substitute for W-2 form.
While you may be able to use your final pay stub instead of your W-2 to file your return if you're doing the work yourself, if you use a tax preparer, you must present a W-2. Tax preparers sign off on your return and can be held responsible for errors. While the chance is slight that the wage and tax totals on your final pay stub won't match the W-2, you and your tax preparer could be held responsible for errors.
Use a W-2 Early Access Program
Companies like H&R Block offer a W-2 Early Access Program that you can use to obtain your W-2 information, even if you haven't received it in the mail yet. You can search for your W-2 by entering either your employer's name or the company's FEIN number.
When To Contact the IRS
The safest solution is to wait for your W-2. You could ask your employer to send your W-2 before the Jan. 31 deadline, but employers are not obligated to honor such a request. If you don't receive a W-2 by Feb. 14, contact the IRS. It will attempt to urge your employer to send the W-2, and will provide you with a form to send with your tax return, explaining that your W-2 is missing and describing how you arrived at the wage and tax information on your return. In this case, you can use your final pay stub with a clear conscience.
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.