Networking and Career Advice

How to Get a W2 From Previous Employers

Marcie Wilmot

Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, Business Writer

When tax time rolls around, the last thing you want to worry about is having to track down a W-2 from your former employer. Many times you won’t have to because the IRS requires companies to send these forms to all current and former employees who have earned more than $600 in the last year. Unfortunately, there are employers who don’t do what they’re supposed to. There are even times where something else may happen that prevents the W-2 from getting where it’s supposed to go.

This article explains how to get a W2 from previous employers if it’s the end of January, and your W-2 still hasn’t arrived. Read on for several practical tips you can follow to obtain your W-2. We’ll also walk you through what to do if there’s absolutely no way to get your W-2 in time. So, don’t worry, this problem won’t be holding you – and your ability to file your tax return – up for much longer! 

Why Do You Need a W-2?

A W-2, also known as a Wage and Tax Statement, is a tax form that employers use to report how much they’ve paid in wages and withheld in taxes for their employees. The IRS requires companies to send these forms to both current and former employees before January 31st every year. This way, employees can file their taxes using the information found on them. W-2’s typically include information regarding the amount of:

January 31 is the last day you should have to wonder about how to get your W2 from a previous employer
You should get your W2 by January 31.
  • Money you earned in the past year from that company
  • Federal, state, and other taxes that were withheld from your pay
  • Money the company contributed to your healthcare
  • You contributed to your retirement fund
  • You received in dependent care benefits 

Employers must also send a copy of all W-2s to the IRS too. It’s an official report of your income and how much you paid in taxes throughout the year. It enables you to determine if you need to pay more in taxes or if you deserve a tax refund.

Disclaimer: If you’ve taken the leap from employee to freelancer, then it is important to note that you will still need to file a W-2 if you held a job in the last year. It is highly advised to seek help from a tax professional if you have to file a W-2, as well as a Form 1099 (for self-employment tax).

Where is My W-2?

There are times when the question of how to get a W2 from my employer turns into where is my W2. If you’ve done all the steps to receive your W2, but still don’t have it, there could be several reasons why. Time to put on your detective hat and figure out what’s going on!  

Recheck Your Mailing Address 

Did you finally make the decision to move for a new job? If so, it’s possible the W-2 was sent to your old mailing address. If you didn’t set up mail forwarding with the post office, then it might have been returned to the sender. Even if you did turn on mail forwarding, it’s helpful to double check. Sometimes things go awry, and this might simply be a case of a lost W-2.

Search Your Email 

If you consented to receiving your W-2 electronically yet haven’t seen it arrive, there’s a good possibility it got lost in your email inbox or filtered out as spam. Run a few email searches and check your spam folder to see if you just overlooked it. 

Get in Touch with Your Former Employer’s Concerned Department 

If it’s the end of January and you haven’t seen your W-2 show up yet, call your former employer, and ask to speak to the HR department. Confirm they have the right mailing and/or email address on file for you. You can also offer to pick up the W-2 in person too. 

Contact the Payroll Administrator 

Sometimes companies use third-party payroll administrators. If this is the case, call them to check on the status of your W-2. Confirm they have the correct information on file and ask for a replacement W-2 if necessary. 

Check Your Tax Software 

If you’ve uploaded your W-2 into a tax filing software, then there is a good chance that you can still access it. Additionally, there are times where your employer may send you a W-2 through tax softwares. So, be sure to log into whatever software you (or your previous company) usually uses. Your W2 may be there in digital form.

How To Get W2 From Previous Employer if They’re Reluctant to Send?

Sometimes a company’s HR team or payroll administrator never get their act together and, despite your repeated requests, you still find yourself without a W-2. Don’t worry; this happens! It’s not your fault. However, you must take charge because you’re going to need that W-2 to file your taxes properly. So what should you do?

In this case, here is what you can do.

  • First contact the IRS via phone (1-800-829-1040) or by visiting a local office
  • Next, explain that your previous employer is not being compliant and hasn’t sent you a W2, as required by law.
  • Give the IRS your employer’s Employer Identification Number (EIN). This can be found on old pay stubs or the prior year’s W2.
  • Lastly, be ready to give any other information they request, such as your SSN, the dates you worked there, estimated earnings, etc.)

This will prompt the IRS to send your former employer an official reminder to send your W-2. It also allows for official documentation just in case the situation does not improve.

What if You Can’t Get Your W-2 By Any Means?

"Deadline" written on filing equipment
There are options once the deadline is fast approaching and you still have no W2.

Maybe you’ve contacted the IRS and the company itself to no avail and it’s nearly April 15th. You have to file your taxes. At this point you may have to abandon figuring out how to get your W2 from your previous employer. Your main focus is to make sure you don’t get hit with IRS penalties. Here’s what you can do.

Requesting an Extension 

The first thing you can do is ask the IRS to extend the tax filing deadline for you. This will give you more time to track down your W-2 and file your taxes (usually six more months). To do this, submit Form 4868 (also known as an Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return). Remember, though, that you must still pay your taxes by April 15th, so be sure to include an estimated payment with that form.

Filing Your Taxes Without a W-2 

If you’re pretty certain there’s no way you’ll ever get a W-2 from your former employer, then it’s best to file your taxes like normal (in other words, on time). But, in this case, also submit Form 4852 (Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement) with your return. Use the last pay stub you have from your former employer to estimate your wages and withholdings and include those numbers on the form. 

What To Do for a W-2 Received After Filing Your Tax Return

If you end up receiving your W-2 but have already filed your taxes, you should submit Form 1040x to correct your estimated earnings and withholding amounts. Although it can take a while to amend your return (up to 16 weeks), it’s crucial you do this so your information with the IRS is accurate. Ultimately, your updated numbers may change how much of a tax refund you get or how much you owe in taxes. 

Question mark to represent frequently asked questions associated with how to get a W2 from previous employers


Can employers be fined for not sending a W-2?

Yes! The IRS can fine a company up to $50 for every W-2 it fails to send on time to its current and former employees. Depending on how many employees the company has, this can add up. Companies can also be fined for improperly filing W-2s.

Can you sue a company for not sending your W2?

According to several lawyers, no. You can’t sue your former employee if they don’t send you a W-2. However, you can get them in trouble with the IRS if you report them. The IRS will follow up with the company, remind them to send your documents, and potentially fine them if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do.

What happens if an employer doesn’t send a W-2 by Jan. 31?

If you’re still questioning how to get your W2 from your previous employer and it’s the end of January, then it’s time to take action. Businesses are required to send out all W-2s to their current and former employees by this date. The IRS fines businesses for being late or not sending the W-2. So contact your employer first. If you still don’t receive your W-e, then contact the IRS directly with your complaint and the company’s EIN.

What happens if I forgot to file one of my W-2s?

There are circumstances where you may have more than one W-2. If you forget to file, then you can submit an amended tax return with the updated numbers on Form 1040x. If you don’t then you’ll hear from the IRS. You may be obligated to pay fees and interest, so be sure to take steps to fix this accidental oversight.

Can I file one of my W-2s next year?

No. If you forgot to include one of your W-2s on your current tax return, you’ll need to submit an amended tax return along with Form 1040x as soon as possible. You can’t just wait until the following year to send in that W-2. Your numbers for the current year will be incorrect, and the IRS won’t like that (it will mess up the amount of taxes you either owe or that should be refunded back to you!)

Can you get in trouble for not filing all your W-2s?

Yes. You might end up owing a penalty or interest. As long as your income and withholdings were correctly accounted for in your filing (even if you forgot to send in the actual W-2s), then everything is likely okay. If the numbers weren’t accurate, however, file an amended return so the IRS can see the correct information as soon as possible.

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