Ten Steps To Getting A Copy Of A Prior Year W2 Form

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Whether the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) is auditing you or your lending company is seeking to verify your income, a copy of your W2 forms from the previous years is essential. This tax document, otherwise known as the Wage and Tax Statement, shows the income earned by an employee and the taxes withheld from them.        

Ideally, an employer should provide their workers with a W2 form. If you’re missing a W-2 form from the prior tax period, you have a few ways to retrieve these old forms for free or with minimal costs.

Remember that your W2 form is different to the pay stubs that employees usually receive. The W-2 form is like a net earnings pay stub for your employee.

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Option #1: Request previous W2 forms from your employer  

According to the Social Security Agency (SSA), employers must keep their employees’ W-2 forms for at least four years. This recordkeeping standard is essential if the SSA needs to perform corrective or reconciliation measures on previous income and tax computations. As such, the easiest way to obtain a copy of your old and current W2 forms is from your employers.

Contact your payroll or human resources department to ask how you can kickstart the process. If your company outsources the payroll task to a service provider, contact the latter and ask if they can send the old W2 forms to you.   

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Option #2: Ask for a copy from the SSA 

If you can’t get a copy from your employer or the payroll service company, contact the SSA if you can ask for one. The SSA plays a crucial role in tax filing, as employers submit their workers’ W2 forms to the SSA. The agency then processes the data and forwards the tax information to the IRS.

The SSA can provide a taxpayer or their legal representative with a microprint copy of form W2. There are limited uses for this version, though. This is because it’s mainly to settle SSA-related issues, including discrepancies in income and in filing specific government claims.  

 

Option #3: Request W2 forms from prior years from the IRS  

There are two ways to obtain W2 forms from the IRS, either online or through the mail. Depending on how you filed your tax returns, you can get old W2 forms through a transcript or an actual copy from the IRS.   

A transcript shows a condensed computer printout of a taxpayer’s wage and income information. Filing dates, status, dependents, amended gross income, and tax liabilities are some of the information included in the transcript. Lending institutions often require this document to validate a borrower’s income, taxes, and government agencies when a borrower applies for benefit claims. 

 

Retrieving W-2 form transcript online  

An actual copy of the current and previous W2 forms contains more comprehensive information, including the document itself. But it can only be acquired if the taxpayer opted for paper filing. 

Either way, check the following steps to get a transcript or a copy of your previous W-2 forms:  

  1. Go to the IRS website and access the ‘Get Transcript’ portal  

With this IRS digital tool, a taxpayer can access W2 forms and other tax documents under the 1098, 1099, and 5498 series. These forms cover mortgage interests, miscellaneous income, and individual retirement accounts, respectively. The transcript, however, doesn’t include state and local-related data.  

  1. Prepare the following information

An IRS-registered online user can read, print, and download their W2 transcript online without cost. Tax documents from ten years prior are available, but you’ll have to wait until July or later to access the file for the most recent tax year.     

Here are the following things you need to prepare:

  • Your Social Security Number (SSN) 

  • Personal details such as date of birth, filing status, and postal address from the most recent tax return 

  • Active email account 

  • A personal account number linked to your name, including one from a credit card, student loan, mortgage or home equity loan, car loan, or a home equity line of credit.   

  • A mobile phone linked to your name 

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  1. Fill-in form 4506-T or ‘Request for Transcript of Tax Return’ 

If you need to submit a transcript of your tax return and not the actual and filled W-2 form, search the IRS website for the 4506-T form. You can also use the said document to ask for a transcript of your 1099 information, which is mainly used for miscellaneous income earned by freelancers or professional consultants. Download, fill in, and mail the form to the IRS.  

Supply the correct information and make sure the form contains the following:    

  • The taxpayer(s) names and other personal details should be identical to the tax return form. The same applies if you filed a joint return with your spouse.   

  • The form should include any updated information indicated in the appropriate line(s).   

  • The postal address must be complete and accurate.  

  • Write down your phone number so the IRS can contact you for any issues.   

  • If you want the transcript details of your W2, don’t forget to click the box for 4506-T. Clicking this box means you’ll only receive your W2 summary information and not the actual copies of the form.      

  • The request form must bear your signature and your spouse for joint filing.   

 

  1. Send form 4506-T to the IRS

If you want the transcript delivered to you via mail, you can initiate your request online, download and complete the form, and send it to the IRS postal office address indicated in the form. Wait for at least ten days to receive the documents. You can also submit the form via fax. Make sure to check the appropriate boxes and indicate the tax years for the form you’re requesting. 

If requesting by mail, you need to prepare the following information:  

  • Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITN) 

  • Birthdate  

  • Mailing address the same as your most recent tax return, if there are no changes 

 

Some lenders may ask loan applicants to submit a filled form 4506-T as part of the application documents. Doing this can help financing companies get a copy of your old W2 forms to validate other documents. 

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Requesting for an actual copy of previous W-2 tax return forms  

The IRS retains the actual copy of the W2 form only if the taxpayer attaches it when submitting paper tax returns. To get a hold of this document along with all the attachments, a taxpayer has to file and offer form 4506 and prepare USD $43 for each copy of the tax return. The IRS, however, waives this payment in disaster areas, as declared by the federal government.     

  1. Use form 4506 or “Request for Copy of Tax Return” 

You can ask for a complete W2 form from the IRS by getting form 4506, or Request for Copy of Tax Return first. This document is ideal for taxpayers who want to have the actual copies of current or previous tax returns and information from the IRS. Complete copies of tax returns are handy in cases where amendments to previous tax returns are needed. A W2 copy is also required when submitting refund claims, applying for loan applications, and IRS audits.   

  1. Know how to correctly fill-up form 4506 

Being from the same ‘family’ forms 4506 and 4506-T only have slight differences. Take heed of the following points to ensure your filling out forms accurately.  

  • The taxpayer(s) names should reflect the entries written on the tax return form. 

  • The same is applicable for other identifiable details such as Social Security Number (SSN), individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), or employer identification number (EIN).  

  • Double-check your postal address for accuracy. 

  • If you moved to a new address, fill in the appropriate line.  

  • In cases where a third party or your lender requests you to submit a 4506 form, fill in the appropriate line and supply the person's or entity’s complete details.    

  • A 4506 form can accommodate up to eight W2 forms. If you need more, fill in another form. 

Errors in the request form may cause delays in the processing of your application for a W2 copy. 

  1. Calculate the total cost for requesting copies of your tax returns 

Unlike transcript requests, asking for an actual copy of your previous W2 entails cost. That’s because your tax returns are sent back to you. Each copy costs USD$43, so asking for five copies, for instance, will cost you USD$215.  

  1. Prepare the payment for your form 4506 

You can pay for your request either through a check or money order payable to the IRS. This amount is refundable in case the tax agency can’t retrieve your files.   

  1. Mail your form 4506 and check payment  

After filling in the form and ensuring all entries are correct, attach the check payment or mail order form and send them to the IRS office address indicated in the instructions accompanying form 4506.  

  1. Wait for IRS response    

While transcripts take about ten days to process, getting an actual copy of your tax return takes longer, about 75 calendar days. If you haven’t received a response by then, contact the IRS via 1-800-908-0046. 

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Final Thoughts  

There are a few ways to get your previous W2 forms. For an easy and fast process, ask your employer and the SSA. If you need a document from the IRS, you can either get a transcript or a copy.   

If you opted for paper filing and attached a W2 form with your tax return, the IRS can provide an actual copy of your prior tax returns. For online tax filing, the IRS can only provide a transcript, excluding the W2 form. In most cases, though, a transcript may be enough, especially for lending companies and some government agencies.

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Ten Steps To Getting A Copy Of A Prior Year W2 Form
Samantha Clark

A Warrington College of Business graduate, Samantha handles all client relations with our top-tier partners. Read More

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