How to Fill Out a W-2 Form

by Tom Streissguth - Updated September 26, 2017
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Your business must complete a W2 form every year for each employee. These forms present information that impacts tax calculations, including wages, state and federal income tax withholding, and pension contributions. The employee is responsible for sending a copy of the form along with the annual tax return to the Internal Revenue Service. Filling out a W2 is relatively straightforward if you've got tax accounting software to keep track of the numbers.

Format by the Rules

Your accounting software may populate the individual boxes on the form automatically from stored figures and calculations. The IRS requires a standard, typed or printed, black 12-point Courier font with no corrections and all entries fitting entirely within the boxes. The form is machine-read, and if it's kicked out for incorrect formatting, or for being handwritten or in the wrong color, you will have to resubmit it.

More Detailed Descriptions

Show total wages, withholding, and all other appropriate information in the correct boxes. The IRS provides the manual "Information for Form W2," available either in hard copy or online, with a breakdown of the required information. Some boxes are purely informational but still mandatory. Showing Code DD in Box 12, for example, tells the IRS the employer reports his contribution to a qualified health plan, which is excluded from the employee's taxable income. The box functions are subject to change as the tax law creates new reporting requirements.

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Distributing the Document

File Copy A of Form W2 with the Social Security Administration, which needs the information for the employee's SSA wage and contributions record. Send Copy 1 to the state or local tax division, if required by law. Copy B, Copy C, and Copy 2 go to the employee, and Copy D is for the employer's records. The deadline to distribute the form and file it varies each year. The deadline to file for 2014, for example, is March 2, 2015, while the deadline to distribute it to employees is February 2, 2015. You can request an extension of time to file with IRS Form 8809. There should be a permanent copy of the W2 in your accounting system. The IRS requires you to keep the form, even if undeliverable to the employee, for four years.

Save Time with BSO

You can use Social Security's Business Services Online to create and/or upload an electronic version of your W2s, which can also be printed out for employees. If you're running a small business, this represents an alternative to pulling together the W2s through your own accounting system or doing them manually. The SSA site requires registration. You must have a web-enabled browser with 128-bit encryption and cookies enabled, and Adobe Acrobat Reader to create the documents online.

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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