How to file your taxes with or without your W-2 or 1099


Paul Sisolak

Paul Sisolak

Blog author Paul Sisolak

As a personal finance journalist, Paul specializes in financial literacy, loans, credit scoring and the art of negotiation. He's covered some of the nation's most inspiring financial success stories for national publications including CNN, and US News & World Report and has a passion for helping Americans overcome their debt.

Published December 22, 2016|4 min read

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Tax filing season will soon be rolling around again, and it can be painful.

But for the time being, there are really just two basic, key documents you need to remember when preparing and filing your tax return: a W-2 and an 1099 form.

Both documents are informational forms for two different types of workers. If you’re a salaried employee on the payroll of your company, you’ll need a copy (or copies) of your W-2 from your employer(s), which will list all your income and wages earned this calendar year, plus tax withholdings for the calendar year for any and all employers you worked for.

If you’re a freelancer or independent contractor, you’ll need a 1099 form from each client who has paid you this year. Like the W-2, it will list all of your earnings for the year, but unlike the W-2, no taxes will be withheld. You’ll need to do that yourself if you’ve earned more than $600 in contract work. Here's how to do taxes as a freelancer.

If you’ve performed both payroll and contract work this year, you’ll need to include both your W-2 and 1099(s) as part of your tax return form. Both forms are informational; your wages, withholdings, Social Security and personal information are already filled out on the W-2 and 1099, so there’s nothing you need to complete or fill out. But you’ll need the information in order to prepare your taxes by the April deadline. Tax filing season begins on Jan. 23, and you should expect either form in the mail by late January/early February at the latest.

We can all expect that problems may arise when filing your taxes, not the least of which includes erroneous information on your W-2 or 1099 — or not receiving either document at all. Here’s what to do when you receive your documentation, and what to do if you don’t.

The first thing to do when you receive your W-2/1099

Your W-2 or 1099 won’t arrive in the mail from the IRS. They’ll come direct from your employer, former employer or contract employer. Here's all the documents you need.

The most important thing you should do after receiving your documents, but before hitting TurboTax or your preferred tax filing method, is to check for errors on all W-2s or 1099s:

  • Is your name and address current and spelled correctly?

  • Is the name and address of your employer correct?

  • Do your income/Social Security wages, tax withholdings (federal, state and local) and other earnings appear correct?

  • Does your W-2 or 1099 form list the correct year?

After you’ve verified everything is in place and correct, feel free file away your taxes. If there’s an error or errors on your W-2 or 1099, or it’s early April and you’re still waiting for your documents, then we have a problem. Rectifying the situation, however, is simple.

What to do if your W-2 or 1099 is incorrect (or missing)

If you find any errors or inconsistencies on your W-2/1099, contact your employer/payer right away. They’ll need to fix the wayward information and resubmit a corrected form to you, and you’ll still need to stick to your tax return deadline with Uncle Sam.

If your mailbox is still empty by the end of February, don’t keep waiting. You need time to fill out your tax return, and rushing to complete it last minute will only create the possibility of making errors for the IRS. Contact your employer/payer and let them know you haven’t received your documents; it may have been lost in the mail, or it may never have been sent.If you can’t reach them, or there’s no response, this is when the IRS can come to your rescue. You can call them for assistance at 800-829-1040. According to the IRS, have the following information handy:

  • Your full name, address with zip code, phone number and Social Security number

  • Your employer/payer’s name, address and phone number

  • The employer identification number, or EIN, of your employer/payer

  • An estimate of the all wages you’ve earned, the amount of federal tax withheld, and the dates of employment

You can download this tax checklist to make sure you have everything in order.

Once you’ve connected with the IRS with this information, it will contact your employer or payer to request any missing or errant info be corrected, and documentation re-submitted to you. In the meantime, in order to keep you on deadline, the IRS will send you what’s known as Form 4852 (a W-2 substitute) or Form 1099-R (a 1099 replacement form), along with instructions. You can use both of these forms to complete your tax return and file your taxes by April 18 in case you don’t receive your W-2 or 1099 on time.

One last thing to note: if you’ve finished your tax returns with Forms 4852 and 1099-R, and then your original W-2 or 1099 rolls in, fill out and submit to the IRS an amended Form 1040X if you discover there are any inconsistencies between your employer/payer’s estimates and your own. (Here's a complete list of tax forms Americans forget to file.)

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