How to Legally File a Tax Return Without a W-2 + FAQs

Picture of Lana Dolyna, EA, CTC
Lana Dolyna, EA, CTC

Senior Tax Advisor

If you’re missing your W-2, don’t despair – you can still file your taxes. The first step is to contact your employer and request a copy of the form. If they are unable to provide you with one, you can get a transcript of your W-2 from the IRS. You can also order a copy of your tax return from the IRS if you need it for reference.

Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to get these forms, so it’s best to request them as soon as possible. Once you have everything you need, you can sit down and complete your tax return. It may not be as simple as if you had your W-2, but with a little patience, you can get it done.

Can I File Taxes Without My W-2?​

You can file your taxes without a W-2. A W-2 form is an essential document that provides your employer with your Social Security Number, and it also shows how much money you made over the course of a year. Without a W-2, you may have a harder time proving your income to the IRS.

There are a few situations where you might not have a W-2 form. For example, if you’re self-employed or if you receive cash tips, you won’t get a W-2 for these amounts. In these cases, you can use other documents – like 1099 forms – to prove your income. So while it is technically possible to file your taxes without a W-2, it’s usually best to wait until you have all the necessary documents before doing so.

Is Filing Taxes Without Your W-2 Legal?

Yes. You can file your tax return legally without your W-2. Prior to 2015, you were required to attach a copy of your W-2 to your return if you were filing a paper copy of your return. After 2015, you were no longer required to attach the W-2.

In 2015, the IRS started requiring employers to file electronic copies of their W-2s and W-3s to the IRS, so the IRS already has a copy of your W-2 on file when you file your return.

How to Get Your W-2

It’s best to have a copy of your W-2 on hand when filing your tax return. There are several options for obtaining a copy of your W-2 if you did not receive one automatically from your employer.

1. Try to Obtain a W-2 from Your Employer

Your employer is legally required to send you a W-2 by the end of January, so if you haven’t received one, don’t hesitate to ask for it. If your employer refuses to give you a W-2, you can contact the IRS for help. They may be able to provide you with a copy of the form or take other actions against your employer.

2. Get the W-2 from the IRS

You can get a W-2 from the IRS. If your employer didn’t send one to you, you can still get your hands on one. If your employer can’t or won’t give you one, you can fill out Form 4506-T and request a copy from the IRS.

There’s no fee for this service, but it can take up to 75 days to process your request. So if you’re in a hurry, it might be faster (and easier) to just get your employer to give you a copy of your W-2 but getting a W-2 from the IRS is still an option if you need it.

3. Get the W-2 Information From a Tax Service

According to the IRS, the best way to get your W-2 information from a tax service is to request it from the company that prepared your return. A tax-preparer such as the seasoned professionals at Tax Shark can help you navigate requesting your IRS transcript or filing out the additional form necessary to file your return without a W-2.

How to Legally File Taxes Without a W-2

Though you can legally file your tax return without a W-2, it’s not recommended. You should be able to calculate most of the numbers you need from your final paystub for the year, but it’s possible that you won’t have that on hand either. In order to legally file without a W-2 or if your employer is refusing to provide one, you need to complete an extra form on your tax return.

File Form 4852

If you are filing your return without a W-2, you will need to complete Form 4852. This form is used to estimate your wages and withholding for the year, and it’s important to note that it should only be used as a last resort.

Your employer is legally required to send you a W-2, so if you don’t have one, reach out to them first. If they’re unable to provide you with a copy, then you can begin the process of filling out Form 4852. The form itself is fairly straightforward, but it’s always best to consult with a tax professional before filing. They can help ensure that you’re taking the proper steps and help you avoid any potential penalties.

To fill out the form, you will need your final pay stub from your employer. If you had additional earnings after you received your last pay stub, you’d need to estimate the amounts that were not included on the return. Form 4852 requires you to fill out your gross wages and various tax withholdings.

If you file your return with Form 4852 and later receive a W-2 from your employer, you may need to amend your return to correct the estimated amounts.

What If I File by Mail?

The process of filing your return by mail without a W-2 is similar to an electronically filed return. You’ll need to fill out Form 4852 and submit it with your return by mail. Though the IRS used to require W-2s to be attached to tax return filings, that is no longer a requirement. Form 4852 should not slow down the processing of your return.

What if I’m an Independent Contractor?

When you work as an independent contractor, you’re not an employee of the company you’re contracting for. This means that the company doesn’t withhold taxes from your pay, and you don’t receive a W-2 form at the end of the year.

Independent contractors receive Form 1099 at the end of the year, showing their gross payments from the customer or client. A 1099 does not show any tax withholdings since independent contractors are responsible for paying their own estimated taxes and self-employment taxes.

Make Sure to File on Time

If you are still waiting on your W-2 when the tax deadline is approaching, you should consider filing an extension on your tax return. Filing an extension gives you an extra six months to file your return.

Note that filing an extension for your return does not extend the time you have to pay the taxes due. You should estimate what taxes you will owe on your return and pay that with the extension filing.


Here are the answers to some common questions about filing your tax return without a W-2.

Yes. Some payroll providers will provide the W-2 directly to employees. You will need to contact your provider to find out their policy.

You should attempt to contact the payroll administrators from your prior company. If that does not work, you should file Form 4852 using the figures from your final pay stub.

You will either receive one or two W-2s for the year, depending on the agreement between the company’s buyer and seller. If you receive a single W-2 from the purchaser, you should carefully review the W-2 to see if it obtains all wages for the year.

No. You will need to file an extension for your return even if your W-2 is late.

Employers are required to mail out your W-2 by the end of January each year.

No. It is not illegal. You will be required to fill out a form 4852 when you file your return to let the IRS know that it is being filed without a W-2.