Understanding Your W2

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If your New Year’s resolution had anything to do with procrastination, budgeting or organization, then you’ll be happy to know that you should have a document that will help. Your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement is probably the easiest and most helpful tax document you’ll receive. This form is easy to navigate — consider it your cheat sheet for filing your taxes.

What is a W-2?

The W-2 Wage and Tax Statement (or simply “W-2”) is an important document used mainly for tax purposes. It shows how much money you made and how much you paid in taxes in a calendar year.

Who gets a W-2?

If you’ve had any taxes withheld from your paychecks in the last calendar year, you will receive a W-2 from every employer from that year. You should receive three or four copies of your W-2:

  • Copy B — File with your federal income tax return.
  • Copy C — Keep for your records (the IRS recommends up to seven years).
  • Copy 1 — File with your state income tax return.
  • Copy 2 — File with your local income tax return.

When do I get my W-2?

Your employer is required by the IRS to provide your W-2 in a timely manner. If you haven’t received your W-2 by February 15, talk to your employer or contact the IRS for assistance.

As soon as you receive your W-2, verify that your employer got all the information correct. Are your name, address and Social Security number accurate? Does your income on your W-2 match the income on your end-of-the-year pay stub?

If any of the information is incorrect, there are instructions on the back of your W-2 for making corrections. Ask your employer to file a Form W-2c for corrections. Need more help? Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

Using the W-2

If you stress about filing taxes when April rolls around, or it’s your first year filing, get started now. Set a personal date for filing your taxes (maybe March 15), allowing plenty of time to seek help if you need it. Call the IRS for individual tax questions, or visit for some face-to-face help at a local branch. For the computer savvy, the IRS has an online filing system. Visit and check out e-file or Free File options.

Breaking Down the Boxes

  • Box 1 — Your income (how much you earned).
  • Box 2 — How much federal income tax you paid.
  • Box 3 — How much of your income was taxable for Social Security.
  • Box 4 — How much Social Security tax you paid.
  • Box 5 — How much of your income was taxable for Medicare.
  • Box 6 — How much Medicare tax you paid.

NOTE: Box 3 and 5 may be different from Box 1 if you had any deductions (money withheld from your paycheck) that are not taxable. The most common non-taxable deductions are health benefits and retirement contributions.

  • Box A — Your Social Security number.
  • Box B — A crazy number that the IRS has attached to your employer.
  • Box C — Your employer’s name and address (most often the corporate headquarters).
  • Box D — Don’t worry about this one (it’s official mumbo-jumbo).
  • Box E/F — Your name and address.

Don’t be intimidated by the W-2 — it’s simple and easy to use.

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