Form W-2 errors are never a good thing. You may cause more work for yourself, delay tax returns and refunds for employees, and accumulate fines. You should carefully review each Form W-2 before you send it to the Social Security Administration and your employees.
The only way to avoid mistakes is to know what they are in advance. Discover the common errors people make on Form W-2, such as sending out a handwritten W-2 form.
Downloading Form W-2
You can view Form W-2 on the IRS website. But, that version is only for information purposes. Do not download and use Form W-2 from the IRS website.
Instead, you must buy official copies of Form W-2. You can purchase copies on the IRS website or from an authorized seller (e.g., an office supply store).
Using a form from the wrong year
Form W-2 changes each year. Make sure you buy the correct form for each tax year. Do not use leftover forms from the previous year.
“Use the W-2 form for the year the income was taxable, not the year you are filing the form,” says Jean Murray, a business coach at The Balance. “For example, for employee wages in 2015, use the 2016 W-2 form; this form will be given to employees and filed with the Social Security Administration in 2017.”
Sending Form W-2 to IRS
Do not send Form W-2 to the IRS. Instead, you must send the forms to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Filing Form W-2 late
This one is crucial for 2016 Forms W-2. There are specific due dates for Form W-2. You must send Form W-2 to employees by Jan. 31. You must also send Form W-2 to the SSA by Jan. 31 (this Form W-2 filing deadline is new starting with 2016 returns).
Submitting a handwritten W-2 form
You might wonder, “Can a W-2 be handwritten?” No, it cannot. It is unacceptable to send handwritten W-2 forms to employees and the SSA. You should print your Forms W-2 instead.
Cutting, folding, or stapling forms
When you send Form W-2 to the SSA, do not cut, fold, or staple the form. Do not do these things even if you are sending multiple Forms W-2.
Making errors while filling out Form W-2
There are many mistakes you can make while filling out Form W-2.
The IRS identifies several common formatting errors that employers make on Form W-2.
- Decimals and cents: You must use decimals and cents when entering dollar amounts on the form. Dollar amount entries should look like this: 0000.00
- Ink color: You should only use black ink on Form W-2. Other ink colors are too light for the scanners to process.
- Font size: The font must be big enough to read, but small enough to stay within the box boundaries. If you can, use 12-point Courier font.
- Dollar signs: Money amounts should not have a dollar sign.
Leaving the SSN blank
Employee Social Security numbers (SSN) are required on Forms W-2. You must fill in the SSN. Do not leave that box blank. Include dashes when formatting the SSN (xxx-xx-xxxx).
Using incorrect information
Make sure the information you use on Form W-2 is accurate. There are many places on the form that have the potential for mistakes.
- Employee’s name: There are multiple ways that you could mess up an employee’s name. Be sure to use the employee’s legal name, not a nickname. If an employee changes their name, use their current name, not their previous name. When you type an employee’s name on the form, it must be entered with the first name and initial at the beginning, followed by the last name and suffix.
- Box 13: Box 13 has three check boxes. Only select the check boxes that apply to the employee. Many employers incorrectly check the “retirement plan” box. Read the IRS instructions for Form W-2 to find out if any of the Box 13 check boxes apply to your employee.
- Box 12 codes: Form W-2 Box 12 codes are numerous. The codes are used to report different compensation and benefits amounts. Double check the codes and their purposes to find out if you need to use any of them. You can find the current Box 12 codes in the Form W-2 instructions.
Correcting Form W-2 errors
If you make a mistake on Form W-2, you can send a corrected return. You will use Form W-2c to make a Form W-2 correction. Check the instructions to find out what corrections you can make with the form.
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This article was updated from its original publication date of 1/19/2012.