Can I Do My Tax Return With a Pay Stub?

You need a special form to file your tax return without a W-2.

A young woman holding a pen, doing her taxes image by Christopher Meder from

The IRS requires U.S. citizens and permanent residents to report their entire income on their tax returns. If you are employed, you will normally determine your employment income using Form W-2 supplied by your employer. If you don't have access to your W-2, however, it is possible to use a pay stub to report your income.

Form W-2

Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, is a tax form that the IRS requires every employer to send each of their employees every year by January 31. If you worked for more than more than one employer during the year, you should receive more than one Form W-2. If you worked as an independent contractor, your clients are not required to send you Form W-2. Form W-2 reports your annual earnings and the amount of taxes withheld in each category -- federal, state, local, Social Security and Medicare.

Estimating Your Withholding

If you haven't received your Form W-2 by early February, contact your employer if you can and ask him to send it to you. You must attempt to contact your employer before you contact the IRS. If for whatever reason you haven't received your Form W-2 by February 14, gather your pay stubs and estimate your income and the amount of federal income tax withheld. If you have a copy of your final pay stub for the year, this information should appear on it. If not, you will have to estimate. If you know your annual wages, you can estimate the total federal tax withheld using the employer tax withholding table on the IRS website.

Contacting the IRS

Once you have a reasonable estimate of your annual wages and the amount of federal income tax that was withheld, you can call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS will ask for this information as well as the name and address of your employer, your dates of employment, your name and address, your Social Security number and your phone number. The IRS will then attempt to contact your employer and have him send your Form W-2.

Filing Your Return

If despite contacting the IRS you have not received Form W-2 in time to file your federal income tax return, download and print IRS Form 4852, a substitute for Form W-2. You must complete it using the information that you provided the IRS. File Form 4852 along with Form 1040. If the IRS later discovers that your approximation of your tax due was less than what you really owed, it might assess penalties and interest on any overdue amounts.

Form 1040X

If you receive Form W-2 after you file your income tax return, you might find a discrepancy between the amounts it lists and the amounts you listed on Form 4852 and Form 1040. In this case you must complete Form 1040X, an amended tax return, and send it to the IRS. Although you must pay any overdue tax along with any assessed penalties and interest, you are entitled to a refund if you accidentally overpaid.