The Internal Revenue Service recommends that taxpayers who don't have W-2 forms first contact their employers to eliminate the possibility of mailing or clerical errors. If your employer can send you a new W-2, it will make the process of filing your taxes much simpler. If you are waiting for a W-2 form, it means that you worked for an employer and earned income, making it likely that you need to file an income tax return, even if your wages were low. Failing to file on time can result in a penalty, as well as interest charges on any money you owe the government. The same April 15 filing deadline applies to all taxpayers, including those who haven't received missing W-2s.
One of the most important things you need when you file your income taxes is complete documentation of your income from the previous year, including W-2 forms from your employers. W-2 forms usually arrive in January and list not only how much you earned, but also how much of your income your employer withheld for taxes. However, even if you lose or don't receive a W-2 form, you can still file your taxes on time to comply with the tax code.
Deciding to File
The IRS allows taxpayers to file without W-2s by providing Form 4852, which is a substitute for Form W-2. This form allows you to explain that your W-2 is missing and provide your best estimate as to its contents. By filling it out you'll essentially produce a new, estimated W-2 form for yourself. Using a substitute is the proper procedure for filing without a W-2, meaning you should avoid directly entering your estimates on your tax return. Filing with a Form 4852 will delay processing of your return, but it will keep you in compliance with the tax code.
The accuracy of your tax return depends on how closely you can estimate your wage data without a W-2. If you're missing multiple W-2s -- a situation that can happen if you move and old employers don't have your current address, or if multiple previous employers go out of business before the end of the year -- this will be more difficult. Estimating is also complicated if you earned tips or worked in a state with personal income tax, which creates an additional source of tax withholding. Your pay stubs likely include much of the same information as W-2s, including taxable income and taxes withheld. Bank statements are not as useful because they only show how much you earned after taxes, not how much money your employer withheld specifically for federal income taxes.
Amending Your Return
If you file without a W-2 and later receive one from your employer, you should file to amend your tax return if the information on the W-2 is at all different from the information on the return you submitted. IRS Form 1040X allows you to submit the correct W-2 data to either receive an additional refund or recalculate the amount of tax you owe. The sooner you file an amended return, the quicker you'll receive your full refund, or the less interest you'll owe on taxes due.