Understanding Form W-2

The W-2 can be a bit confusing. Keep the following items in mind while reviewing your W-2.

In this article


Verify your SSN

Please be sure that your social security number is correct. If the SSN on your W-2 is wrong, alert your employer so that a revised W-2c can be produced.

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Your wages listed in boxes 1, 3, 5, & 16 are the amount of Taxable Wages not Total Wages

Deductions from your pay taken under a pretax S125 plan will lower your wages listed in these boxes on your W-2. Common items that fall under the S125 plan are health, dental, and vision insurance premiums, HSA contributions, flex plan, and certain supplemental insurance plans. Retirement funds will lower your box 1 Federal Wages and box 16 State Wages; they do not lower your Medicare or Social Security Wages.

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Box 7 Social Security Tips are often forgotten

Social Security Tips are often forgotten in box 7, which is more a product of the W-2 layout than missing information. If you work in the service industry, make sure all boxes were input from the form.

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HSA Box 12w

HSA box 12w often causes confusion as this amount includes money withheld from your pay pretax under an S125 plan. While it was your contribution, you weren't taxed on it, so technically it was an elective deferral from your salary that your employer contributed falling under the S125 plan rules.

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Not enough or no withholding is listed

If you work part-time, have multiple employers, or are part of a two-earner household, you may experience difficulties gauging the proper W-4 settings and/or question the withholding or lack thereof from your paychecks. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator to determine the proper amount of income tax to withhold from each paycheck.

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Box 12 Codes

Box 12 Codes typically require additional input on a 1040 and likely will prevent you from filing a 1040EZ return. The full list of Box 12 Codes is available on the back of your W-2.

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Wages listed are those associated with the year in which they were paid, not the year earned

For instance, if you were hired in late December, but not paid until January, you would not have a W-2. Your check date is the driver for the year's earnings, not the pay period.

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The IRS and most states do not need the official pressure-sealed copy of your W-2

In fact, the IRS doesn't need a copy of your W-2 at all. Most, if not all states, will accept a reprinted standard version of your Form W-2 on regular paper. It has been some time, but we have seen in rare instances in North Carolina where an employer original copy was required.

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Employee address is wrong on W-2

If your address is wrong on your W-2, you do not need to worry about correcting it before filing your return. Your 1040 will dictate the address submitted to the IRS, not the Form W-2. 

Having a correct mailing address for your W-2 is important to ensure that you receive them from your employer(s). Check out this article on what to do if you lost or did not receive your W-2.

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Further reading

IRS Instructions on Form W-2 and W-3

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