What Happens if You Don’t File Your W-2 Form: Penalties & Considerations
September 25, 2023
It is crucial to know and understand what happens if you don’t file your W-2 form because your W-2 Statement is an integral step in fulfilling all your tax obligations.
Filing the IRS Form W-2 is necessary for employees whose employers withhold taxes from their regular pay. Unfortunately, there are instances wherein an employee cannot file their essential tax forms on time, which can potentially lead to penalties and serious charges from the government.
This article will discuss what happens if you don’t submit a Form W-2, the potential consequences and penalties, and the countermeasures you can take to amend any lapses and errors in your tax returns.
- A W-2 Form, or “Wage and Tax Statement,” reports an employee's annual wages and withheld taxes.
- Employers are responsible for providing their employee’s W-2 Forms. You can use Form 4852 as a substitute for their missing Form W-2.
- Taxpayers incur penalties and fees if they fail to file their W-2 Statements on time.
What is a W-2 Form?
A W-2 form, also called the Wage and Tax Statement, is an IRS form that reports an employee’s annual wages and the amount of taxes withheld from their regular paycheck.
The Form W-2 also declares all other essential information tied to the wages, salary, and benefits that employers pay their employees within the year. Every year, all employers must issue W-2 Forms to each employee on or before the 31st of January.
Employers must send their employees’ W-2 forms on time so that the latter can file their state and federal taxes.
All employees who annually receive W-2 forms are classified as W-2 employees because they fall under the traditional employment setup wherein they get paid fixed rates. Employers file their Wage and Tax Statement on their behalf.
Employees who switch jobs or work multiple jobs can still receive W-2 forms from each of their employers.
Can You File Taxes Without W-2 Form?
Yes, you can still file taxes without a W-2 form. Here are a few alternative ways to do that:
Use a Substitute Tax Form
If, for any valid reason, you cannot acquire a copy of your Form W-2, you can use Form 4852, a substitute for Form W-2 and Wage and Tax Statement, instead.
You must have a copy of your latest pay stub or W-2 form from the previous year when using Form 4852. Your pay stub and last Form W-2 contain critical details about your taxes and salary, such as your year-to-date and the total deductions on your wage or salary.
However, if you do not have a copy of your last W-2 form or pay stub, try to estimate your annual earnings to ensure you still fill out the form with accuracy.
It is crucial to understand that the existence of a substitute tax form for your Wage & Tax Statement is not an excuse to disregard what happens if you don’t file your W-2 form.
Seek Assistance from Your Payroll or HR Personnel
You can also consult the resident payroll officer or human resources personnel at your company. They may have sent your Wage and Tax Statement to your old mailing address—a possibility if you recently moved to a new address.
Check Your Email or Employee Portal
Otherwise, it is also possible that your employer sent your Form W-2 electronically. Check your email (preferably your company email or the email you use for work) or the employee portal used in your workplace to verify.
Consult the IRS or the Nearest Taxpayer Assistance Center
If you’ve consulted your employer’s payroll and human resources department or checked online yet still have a copy of your Form W-2, seek assistance from the IRS or head to the nearest Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).
Upon securing an appointment with the TAC, make sure you have the following information and documents ready:
- Name, address, and contact information
- Social Security number
- Your employer’s name, address, and contact information
- Employer’s Tax ID (if possible)
- Employment dates
- Estimation of your salary or wages and withheld income taxes
What Happens If You Don’t File Your W-2 Form?
If you don’t file your W-2 form, you may be subject to a “Failure to File W-2” penalty. The penalty is equivalent to 5% of the tax you owe for every month after the tax filing deadline.
In truth, it is illegal not to file a W-2, particularly when done willfully and repeatedly. After all, the IRS offers alternative tax forms and leeway through extended deadlines to assist taxpayers who cannot meet the tax filing due dates.
Note that only tax-exempt individuals are not penalized for not filing their taxes.
Filing your Form W-2 is considered late if done past the January 31 deadline. Filing the Wages and Taxes Statement after January 31st incurs penalties depending on the number of days that have passed since the set due date:
- If you filed your taxes within 30 days or less past the tax deadline, then you are subject to a minimum penalty of $50 per form and a maximum fine of $556,500 per year (or $194,500 for small businesses).
- If you filed your taxes before August 1 or over 30 days after January 31, then you may face penalties ranging from $110 per form to $1,669,500 per year ($556,500 for small businesses).
- Taxes filed after August 1 are subject to a corresponding penalty of $270 per form or $3,330,000 per year ($1,113,000 for small businesses).
Aside from getting penalized for not filing your W-2 or filing your W-2 Form late, it is also possible to receive penalties from the IRS if you incur the following errors in your tax forms:
- Providing an incorrect Tax Identification Number (TIN) or failing to provide a TIN
- Failure to provide W-2 Forms to employees (for employers)
- Filing taxes by paper instead of electronically
- Filing forms that are unreadable or incompatible with the IRS’s tax processing equipment
- Fraudulent filing or tax fraud
Being Late for More Than Two Years
If you haven’t filed your taxes for two years and owe the government federal income taxes, the IRS may file an SFR (Substitute for Return) on your behalf.
Conversely, the IRS may take a closer look at your taxes owed, and if they determine that you still owe a significant amount of taxes, you may end up paying wage garnishments to make up for the gaps in your taxes.
Late filing for three or more years will incur penalties, interests, and fees that, when combined with your unpaid taxes, will leave you with a mountain of debt to pay. Additionally, the IRS could file a federal tax return lien, which, in turn, limits your eligibility to apply for loans.
You may also have to use your tax refunds to repay your debts or potentially lose your assets and property to the government. If you have incurred a tax debt of over $50,000, your passport may be revoked.
Will You Receive Your Tax Refund Without a W-2 Statement?
You will still receive your tax refund without a W-2 statement, provided you file the substitute Form 4852 instead. However, expect delays in receiving your refund as the IRS needs additional time to verify all the information you provided in Form 4852.
Filing an amended return is needed if you receive your Form W-2 after you have already filed your tax return. Amended returns address corrections or information that must match the tax and income details you initially reported.
What to do if You Are Late With Filing the W-2 Form
Here are some key pointers to remember if you are filing your W-2 form late:
Your Employer Must Issue Your W-2 Statement on Time
Your employer must send your W-2 form on or before January 31st. You can still wait until February 15. Otherwise, contact the IRS hotline at 800-829-1040, and the IRS will contact your employer and inform them about your missing W-2.
The IRS recently released the updated and final requirements for electronic filing in 2024 to reduce the postage, printing, shipping, and storage costs brought by paper returns.
Employers and taxpayers filing ten or more returns should consider using the e-filing method. It is a convenient way to avoid incurring penalties, especially if filing a Form W-2 by mail proves too tedious or time-consuming.
How to Get a W-2 Form
Here are the different ways you can get your W-2 Form:
- Online. Check the IRS’ guide on Online Ordering for Information Returns and Employer Returns to determine how to secure your Form W-2 online. You can also visit the Employer and Information Returns page at www.irs.gov/orderforms, or create your own W-2 form using an online W-2 generator.
- Current employer. It is the responsibility of your employer to issue your W-2 form. However, you must also update your mailing address to ensure your tax documents don’t get lost in the mail. Or, check whether your employer opts to send your W-2 form via email or the employee portal.
- Previous employer. If you change jobs within the year, your previous employers must send a copy of your Form W-2. Contact your previous employer’s HR department or your former supervisor or manager and ask about the status of your W-2. If possible, offer to personally retrieve your Wage and Tax Statement to save time and avoid not filing your Form W-2.
- Multiple employers. As long as you change jobs or work for more than one employer within the year, you will receive multiple W-2 forms. Wait until you have secured W-2 forms from all your previous and current employers before filing your taxes. Remember, you cannot file another W-2 form separately. Instead, use Form 1040-X for any amendments to your last return.
Important Tax Deadlines
Understandably, you may be juggling responsibilities at home and work, making you too preoccupied to be mindful of what happens if you don’t file your W-2 form or pay your taxes on time.
Before going through the necessary tax deadlines in the US for 2023, keep in mind the following payment periods for every quarter this year:
- Q1: January 1 to March 31, 2023
- Q2: April 1 to May 31, 2023
- Q3: June 1 to August 31, 2023
- Q4: September 1 to December 31, 2023
- January 16, 2023 - Deadline for the estimated tax payments for the 4th quarter of 2022. The deadline applies to self-employed individuals, businesses, and individuals with other income sources who do not have withholding taxes.
- January 31, 2023 - The due date for employers to send W-2 forms to all their employees. If you are self-employed, a freelancer, or receive income in the form of dividends, royalties, or interest, you should receive a 1099 on or before the 31st of January.
- February 15, 2023 - The due date for filing a new Form W-4 with your employer if you were exempt from withholding taxes in 2022 and have plans to reclaim your exempt status in 2023. Also, filing 1099-Bs and sending 1099-MISC forms should have been sent or fulfilled on or before this date.
- March 15, 2023 - Tax filing deadline for businesses.
- April 3, 2023 - Individuals who turned 72 in 2022 must claim their initial RMD (required minimum distribution) or money that the IRS requires qualified taxpayers to withdraw annually from their tax-deferred retirement accounts.
- April 18, 2023 - Deadline for filing taxes for traditional or W-2 employees, freelancers, independent contractors, sole proprietors, multi-member LLCs, retirees, and corporate returns.
- June 15, 2023 - Due date for estimated taxes for Q2. The deadline is also the last day for filing taxes for Americans living and working outside the US.
- July 17, 2023 - Deadline for taxpayers who plan to claim a 2019 tax refund.
- September 15, 2023 - The deadline for businesses that filed for an extension in filing their tax returns.
- October 16, 2023 - Deadline for finalizing 2022 income tax returns for taxpayers who filed for an extension.
- December 31, 2023 - The last day to make qualified contributions to a 401(k), Roth 401(k), and other employer-sponsored retirement plans.
- January 15, 2024 - The deadline for filing estimated tax payments for the 4th quarter of 2023.
How to Ask for a Tax Extension
A tax extension is an additional period of time the IRS grants to taxpayers to help them finalize all their tax records and documents and file their tax returns.
The IRS considers the following valid reasons when allowing tax extensions:
- Misplaced or missing tax documents
- You are dealing with unforeseen or important life events such as the death of a loved one, recovering from a life-threatening illness, entering parenthood, or surviving a calamity
- Unique tax situations, addressing an IRS audit, or encountering issues while filing your taxes
Assess your current situation and inform the IRS as soon as possible if you cannot meet the tax filing deadlines. Once you are granted a tax extension, make sure you meet the extended due date or incur additional penalties aside from the sanctions that can result if you don’t file a Form W-2.
You can file for a tax extension online through the IRS’ Free File Program. Alternatively, you can download Form 4868 from the IRS website, print it, and fill it out before mailing the document to the IRS.
Now that you know all the possible consequences and considerations that can happen if you don’t file your Form W-2, there is no excuse for neglecting your tax responsibilities.
While calculating your taxes owed and remembering all the essential tax deadlines can cause quite a headache, it will surely benefit you in the long run. Exercising due diligence in filing and paying your taxes keeps you from facing serious penalties and charges.
What Happens if You Don’t File W2 FAQ
#1. Can I still receive my tax refund if I don’t file a W-2?
Yes, you can still receive your tax refund if you don’t file your W-2. But if the IRS determines an error in filing your taxes and assesses that your taxes owed exceed your returns, you will possibly face fees and penalties instead.
#2. What are the penalties for not filing a W-2 form?
The penalties for not filing a W-2 form can range from a minimum of $50 to $270 per form. The maximum penalties can vary from $556,500 to $3,339,000 per year, depending on how late you file your Form W-2.
#3. When should I receive my W-2 statement?
You should receive your W-2 statement from your employer on or before the 31st of January each year, or until the 15th of February if your employer needs more time to prepare your W-2 form.
#4. What should I do if I lose my W2 form?
If you lose your W2 form, the first thing you should do is contact your employer immediately and request a duplicate of your prior-year W-2. You can also log into your company’s employee portal to check whether you have a digital copy of your missing W-2. If your employer cannot provide a duplicate of your W-2 Statement, contact the IRS hotline.
#5. Will the IRS catch a missing W2 form?
Yes, the IRS will catch a missing W-2 form. Instead of obsessing over what can happen if you don’t file your Form W-2, you should take advantage of the IRS’ three-year window of opportunity if you forget to file your W-2 on time.
#6. Do I have to file taxes if I made less than $5,000?
Generally, you are not required to file taxes if you make less than $5,000. Ideally, an individual must earn a minimum of $12,400 to file a tax return.
#7. What happens if I already filed my taxes and got another W2 form?
If you received another W-2 form after filing your taxes, file an amended return to include or correct the unreported income on your additional W-2 Statement. You cannot file another W-2 form separately.