By January 31 of next year, you should receive a W-2 reporting this year's taxes from your employer -- or multiple W-2s for multiple employers. The form makes it easy to figure the size of your tax refund -- or how much more you owe -- but you can make the calculations even without a W-2. Before going that route, contact your employer, confirm she has your address right and ask her to resend the form. If a replacement doesn't arrive by February 14, report the absence to the IRS, then prepare to proceed without it.
Download form 4852 from the IRS website. The 4852 is the substitute you use when your employer's W-2 doesn't arrive. It's okay to submit the form with your 1040 as long as you've notified your employer and the IRS that the W-2 didn't arrive.
Find your last pay stub for the year. The "year to date" or YTD entry tells you how much you earned for the year, how much was taxable -- an amount that excludes contributions to a 401(k), for instance -- and how much tax your employer withheld.
Contact the HR department at your company if you can't find a pay stub. Ask for the information. If you signed up for direct deposit, the information for the last pay period of the year should be available electronically.
Complete 4852 and your 1040 using your pay stub information to figure your tax, your withholding and how big a refund -- if any -- you're entitled to. Submit the forms to the IRS and wait for your refund.
- If you receive a W-2 after filing your taxes and discover you made a mistake, file a 1040X form to correct your tax return. This shouldn't cause you any problems other than possibly paying more tax.
- If you file a 4852 in hopes you can underreport your tax without a W-2, the IRS can hit you with multiple financial penalties. Those include a fine of up to $5,000, an administrative penalty equal to 20 percent of your correct tax bill and a fraud penalty equal to 75 percent of your bill.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.