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Understanding Form W-2

Understanding Form W-2

Form W-2 is a required information return that employers complete and give to employees and the Social Security Administration (SSA) at the beginning of each year.

On Form W-2, you input information about an employee’s earnings and tax payments from the previous year. The employee uses this information when filing their taxes, and federal, state, and local governments also get copies to ensure the correctness of filed tax forms.

What information goes on Form W-2?

You should have accurate and up-to-date payroll records and employee information to fill out Form W-2.  Form W-2 includes the following boxes:

  • a: Employee’s Social Security number
  • b: Employer identification number (EIN)
  • c: Employer’s name, address, and ZIP code
  • d: Control number
  • e: Employee’s first name, initial, last name, and suffix
  • f: Employee’s address and ZIP code
  • 1: Wages, tips, and other compensation
  • 2: Federal income tax withheld
  • 3: Social Security wages
  • 4: Social Security tax withheld
  • 5: Medicare wages and tips
  • 6: Medicare tax withheld
  • 7: Social Security tips
  • 8: Allocated tips
  • 9: Blank box
  • 10: Dependent care benefits
  • 11: Nonqualified plans
  • 12 (Sections a-d): Codes
  • 13: Checkboxes for statutory employee, retirement plan, and third-party sick pay
  • 14: Other
  • 15: Employer’s state ID number
  • 16: State wages, tips, etc.
  • 17: State income tax
  • 18: Local wages, tips, etc.
  • 19: Local income tax
  • 20: Locality name

These boxes can change depending on current legislation. You might leave some boxes blank if they are not relevant to a specific employee. For example, the “Allocated tips” box may be left blank for an employee who did not earn tips. Boxes 18 and 19 might also be blank for employees whose local areas do not collect taxes.

Accuracy is important when completing Form W-2. Common errors on Form W-2 include using the wrong format, wrong information, missing deadlines, and incomplete forms.

If you need to correct any information on Form W-2, you must use Form W-2c.


For any workers you employed between January 1 and December 31 of any year, you must complete and send out Form W-2 by January 31 of the next year. January 31 is the W-2 filing deadline for sending the form to employees and the SSA.

Also, make sure you send Form W-3 with all Forms W-2 to the SSA. Form W-3 is the summary form for all Forms W-2 that you send to the SSA.

Understanding Form W-2

Today, many employers use small business payroll software that makes it possible to print Form W-2 right from their computers. Many programs have options that fill out required tax forms, meaning fewer errors that you can make.

You simply need to have the correct paper to print the forms. You can order paper for Form W-2 from the IRS or another authorized retailer.

Patriot Software’s Full Service Payroll software will complete and file Form W-2 for you based on your payroll information. You just need to give Form W-2 to your employees. Get a free trial now!

This article is updated from its original publication date of 01/19/2012.

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