HR’s Guide to the Form W-2


If you’ve been in HR for any number of years, you know year-end payroll can be a challenge. Much of that is due to the the Form W-2, or Wage and Tax Statement. Don't scratch your head just yet. This guide breaks down everything you and your employees need to know to have a smooth filing.

What is a W-2 Form?

This critical IRS document summarizes employees’ annual compensation and deducted taxes, and it is the primary form used when individuals file their annual tax returns. It might also be used by third parties to validate someone’s earnings, like in the case of applying for an apartment or mortgage. In other words, getting the form right matters—which is why over two-thirds of midsize companies just outsource the task altogether.

What does a W-2 Form look like?

The W-2 form has two distinct sections for your employees to fill out. The first section consists of lettered boxes for employee personal information and employer information. These boxes are letter "a" through "f". You can view this section below. 

Boxes "a" through "f" on the left side of the W-2 Form, for employee and employer information

The rest of the W-2 is populated with financial information and IRS codes. This section is made up of numbered boxes spanning "1" to "20". Be sure your employees enter their information accurately when completely their tax returns. State and local tax information can be found at the bottom of the form.

The numbered boxes of the W-2 Form, for financial information and IRS codes

For a more detailed break down of each individual box on the W-2 Form, download our full Guide to the Form W-2.

When is a W-2 Form due?

All W-2 forms must be filed and distributed to employees on January 31, or the next business day should the date fall on a weekend or holiday. Come the January 31 deadline for distributing the forms, don’t be surprised if employees mistake you for a tax advisor. Whether their questions concern specific numbers or the seemingly random codes that populate Box 12, individuals will likely come to you first.

Get ahead of employee questions with Namely’s Guide to the Form W-2. From Box A to 20, we’ve broken down what each section of the form means and all the nuances you need to consider. Field questions like a certified pro—without giving any tax advice, of course.

Topics: Featured Payroll, Compliance

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