How To Read A W-2 Like A Pro?


When you read a W2 for the first time, you're likely to get confused quickly. Understanding tax forms is no one's favorite task. But nearly everyone working in the USA receives one of these W2 forms every year. You'll need to use copies of this to help you declare your federal and local income taxes, so you need to get to grips with the basics.
This guide will help you read a W2 like a pro, so you don't make any of the common mistakes and misunderstandings associated with declaring income.

Getting Started

The left-hand column of your W2 is used to display personal information. This includes your name, your address, and the name and address of your employer. Meanwhile, the right-hand column contains financial details about the relevant employee - that's you, on your form.
Check out this sample to give yourself an idea of the general layout. Once you are familiar with this, it's easier to read a W2 form in the future. You should keep your W2 somewhere safe, along with your paystubs, in case you need to reference them later.

How to Read a W2 in Detail

Here, we've listed all the boxes and what they contain, as a handy guide for you. You'll see two types of boxes on your W2 - boxes marked with letters on the left, and boxes marked with numbers on the right.

Lettered Boxes

Box A - Your social security number.

Box B - Your employer's tax identification number.

Box C - The name and address of your employer, including its zip code.

Box D - A reference, or 'control' number used by your employer to keep track of which W2 form belongs to which employee.

Box E - Your full name. If it changes, for example, if you get married, ask your company to update this.

Box F - Your address and zip code.

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Numbered Boxes

Box 1 - Your total taxable pay for federal income tax purposes. This will include any tips and bonuses you make.

Box 2 - The amount your employer has withheld for federal income tax. Basically, it's the amount of federal income tax you've already paid.

Box 3 - The total amount of your pay which you'll have to pay Social Security tax on.

Box 4 - The amount your employer has withheld for Social Security tax.

Box 5 - The total amount of your pay on which you'll have to pay Medicare tax.

Box 6 - The amount your employer has withheld for Medicare tax.

Box 7 - Tip income you've reported to your employer.

Box 8 - Tips allocated to you by your employer. You'll need to add this to your taxable wages in your tax return.

These are the 'basic' boxes which will concern most of us. The rest of the numbered boxes relate to more complex compensation and deductions, such as dependent care expenses.

I Need More Help Managing my Finances

Now you know how to read a W2 properly, what's next on your list? Stop wondering about how to properly file your taxes, and let our form W-2 generator do it for you! And if you need to make your own paystubs, be sure to use the paystub creator!

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How To Read A W-2 Like A Pro?
James Wilson

After graduating from McCombs School of Business in Texas, James joined ThePayStubs as a CPA to make sure the numbers we provide our clients are correct. Read More

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