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Reporting Income and Wages from Your W-2

Your W-2 form is the most basic tax form that almost everyone receives. It shows your income from employment and other sources, and it must be reported to the IRS when filing your tax return.

This page:

  • Briefly describes the W-2 and your earned income

  • Lists all the types of income and withholdings on your W-2

  • Explains what to do in case you did not receive a W-2 form

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Reporting the earned income from your W-2

Earned income is any income you receive for services you perform. This includes:

  • wages
  • tips
  • salaries
  • stipends
  • bonuses
  • self-employment income commissions
  • other employee compensation like severance or vacation pay
  • any unaccounted-for employer reimbursements.

In order to determine the earned income you should report to the IRS, you should consult the W-2 form sent to you by your employer at the end of January.

Shown in Box 1 of your W2 form are your total wages, before tax withholdings, union dues, or insurance payments are made. This is the amount you should enter as your earned income.

You report your earned income by filing either a Form 1040, 1040a, or 1040EZ.

Or you can e-file.

Note: If you have multiple W-2 forms to enter, either because you hold two jobs, you switched jobs mid-year or you are filing a joint return with your spouse, you will need to add the figures from each category together.

Understanding your w-2 form

Although we wish that everyone would e-file their taxes, which eliminates the need for learning about paper returns (and the IRS likes it too,) you should probably know at least a little bit about your W-2. After all, it is your hard-earned money!

Located in the appropriate boxes of the W-2 you will find information such as your employer's identification number, employer's address, and the amounts of:

  • federal income tax withheld
  • wages subjected to social security tax
  • social security tax withheld
  • wages subjected to Medicare tax
  • Medicare tax withheld
  • social security tips
  • allocated tips
  • advance EIC payments
  • dependent care benefits
  • and distributions from non qualified retirement plans.

Each of these boxes is clearly labeled with one of the designations above.

We discuss most of the contents of your W-2 in elsewhere, but for now, let's look at the less obvious numbers, reported near the bottom of Form W-2:

An entry in Box 12 indicates any non-cash fringe benefits you received, the value of which is included in the total of Box 1. We have a detailed list of the letter codes that may be in Box 12 of your W2.

You may also have entries in Box 13 and Box 14. A variety of things are recorded in these boxes, like 401(k) contributions, military allowances, contributions made to a medical savings account or employer-provided adoption benefits. You should find a letter or description next to any amount entered in these boxes.

Box 15 lists special situations that might apply to you - such as getting deferred compensation or having a pension plan. Your employer should mark any of the boxes that apply to you with an "X".

Boxes 16 - 21 contain the state and local wages withheld from your salary during the course of the year.

TurboTax Online has spaces in which you can record each separate amount entered on your W-2. From there, the program will guide you through the rest of the filing process.

No W-2? You still need to claim your income.

Sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control - like your employer went out of business and can't be located- that make it impossible for you to obtain a W-2.

In this situation you need to contact the IRS by calling the toll free number for your part of the country. You should find this number in your local phone book.

When you file your taxes without a W-2 you should try to accurately determine your accumulated wages from that employer. Also attach a page explaining the method you used for determining your salary and what attempts you made to obtain a W-2. Remember: The salary you are responsible for determining includes the withholdings for taxes, union dues, and insurance as well as the actual wages for which you received a paycheck.

Making filing easier

As your tax situation gets more complicated, the time and hassle involved in preparing your own paper return can appear to grow exponentially.

You can make the process much easier, by using TurboTax .

You'll avoid costly mistakes, and if you are entitled to a refund, you'll receive it faster than ever before.

Besides being able to choose a program tailor made to your needs, you'll also have the option of asking for professional tax help, should you need it. Either way, you'll be able to work on your return for free, until you actually decide to file. Try it now.

Related IRS Publications

You can get more information about your earned income directly from the IRS, in the form of Publication 525.

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