Just Got Your First W-2? Here’s What It Means

A TaxSlayer user filing a tax return enters wage info from their W-2.

A W-2 is an official tax document you’ll receive in January or early February at the latest. It has a lot of information, including how much you earned in pay and benefits from your job over the previous 12 months. The numbers on your W-2 are used to figure out how much of your income is taxable and how much tax you have already paid. Your employer sends one copy to you and one to the IRS. 

What should I do with my W-2?  

  1. Use the information on your W-2 to fill out your income tax returnTaxSlayer makes it simple to do this. We will guide you step-by-step through your tax return and ask you very basic questions to get you from start to finish.  
  2. Submit your return before April 15th. This is the tax filing due date. The IRS begins accepting returns on February 12th. Returns are processed immediately. If you are owed a refund, then the earlier you submit your return, the earlier you will get your money from the IRS. 
  3. If your W-2 was sent to you by email, you should print a copy for your records. You’ll need to hang on to this and your other tax documents for three years after you file your return. 

How do I read my W-2? 

Your W-2 shows a lot of information about your earnings, your benefits, how much tax you have paid, and how much you still owe. The info on this form is very important, and you’ll need to enter it exactly as it appears when you fill out your tax return. Here is what the boxes on your W-2 mean: 

Box A – This should be your Social Security number 

Box B – This is your employer’s identification number (EIN)  

Box C –  This is the name and address of your employer  

Box D – This box is optional. It may or may not include a code from your employer. 

Box E – This should be your legal name 

Box F – This should be your legal address  

Box 1 — This is your total wages plus other compensation for the year.  

Box 2 — This is the amount of federal income tax that was withheld from your paycheck for the year. 

Box 3 — This number shows how much of your income was subject to Social Security tax. 

Box 4 — This is how much Social Security tax was withheld from your paycheck for the year. 

Box 5 — This number shows how much of your wages were subject to Medicare tax. 

Box 6 — This is how much Medicare tax was withheld from your paycheck for the year. 

Box 7 — If you reported tips to your employer, that amount is shown here.  

Box 8 — If your employer allocates tips, to you that amount is shown here.  

Box 10 — If you get dependent care benefits from your employer, this amount is shown here.  

Box 12 – Your employer can enter a code (or codes) in Box 12 to indicate things like adoption benefits, contributions to an HSA account, nontaxable sick pay, uncollected Social Security or Medicare taxes, etc. If you are unsure what a code means, you can ask your employer or find the description on the list of codes attached to the W-2 form here

Box 13 — If the “Retirement plan” box is checked Box 3, it means that special limits may apply to the amount of traditional IRA contributions you can deduct. 

Box 14 — This box can account for lots of different things, like union dues, health insurance premiums, nontaxable income, and education assistance payments. Your employer can put any description they choose in this box. There aren’t specific codes, so if you are confused about the info in this section, ask your employer for more clarity. 

What does this box on my W-2 mean? 

  • Box 2 – Federal Income Tax Withheld 
  • Box 4 – Social Security Tax Withheld 
  • Box 6 – Medicare Tax Withheld 

When you earn income in the United States, you are responsible for paying federal income tax, Social Security tax, and Medicare on your wages.

If you work as an employee for someone, your employer holds part of each paycheck and sends it to the government to cover your tax bill during the year. These are called tax withholdings. 

Your employer calculates how much to hold back based on what you filled out on your W-4 when you were hired. The taxes that are withheld from your paychecks are an estimate of the total amount of taxes you owe for the year.  

  • If too much was held out, you will get a refund
  • If there wasn’t enough held to cover your taxes, you will have to pay the difference. 

Note: you might also need to pay state and local taxes in addition to federal taxes. These are different for each state. Find out about the tax laws in your state. 

How do I get my W-2? 

Employers are required to send out W-2s to their employees on or before January 31. If you haven’t gotten one and it is after January 31, you can request one from your employer or from the IRS.

If you are self-employed, you won’t receive a W-2. Your income gets reported on a Form 1099 instead. Here’s what you need to know about self-employed tax filing.

Can’t contact your company? Here’s how you can file if you don’t have a W-2

How do I get money back from my taxes? 

The money you get back from the IRS after you file your taxes is called a tax refund. To figure out if you should be getting a tax refund, you will need to file a tax return. Why? Because the info you enter on your tax return tells the IRS whether your employer withheld too much, too little, or just enough income to cover the taxes you owe. If too much was withheld, you will receive a refund.  

You will use tax credits and deductions when you’re filing your tax return to lower your tax liability (the amount you owe). If you don’t have a tax liability, these credits and deductions can help you get a bigger refund.

Is this your first time filing a tax return? Learn why filing is important and what you can do to do to get started. If you’re ready to file now, TaxSlayer has your back. Get started for free today!  

The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2021 (taxes filed 2022). 

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