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Missing a W-2? Need a copy of a prior year return?

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Missing a W-2? The first step is to contact your employer. If contacting your employer proves unsuccessful, AND it is after Feb. 15, then your next step is to contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

When you contact the IRS, you should have the following information available:

Your employer's name, phone number and complete address. If available, the Employer Identification Number is requested (this would be available on prior year W-2 forms, block b).

Your name, address, social security number and telephone number.

An estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld and period you worked for the employer. Ideally this would be year to date information from your final pay stub. If that is not available you need a reasonable substitute: an earlier pay stub, records or bank deposits.

The IRS will start a formal W-2 complaint against your employer, requesting the missing W-2 be furnished to you within a ten day period. They will also send you a letter with instructions and a Form 4852, Substitute for a Form W-2, Wages and Tax Statement.

If, after contacting the IRS and allowing time for your employer to respond, you still do not have your W-2, you may file your return using the form 4852. The IRS cautions that your return may be held up while your information is verified.

Need a copy of your return for a student loan? Not sure if you took the Making Work Pay credits in 2009 and 2010? The IRS offers two free tools which can be helpful; the tax return transcript and tax account transcript. Your tax transcript is not a copy of your return, but a listing showing most line items of your return as originally filed. A tax account transcript shows the changes you or the IRS made after the original return was filed.

Either version of the tax transcript can be ordered by calling 1-800-908-9946 or requested online at irs.gov. When you call, have on hand your social security number, birth date and the street address used most recently with the IRS. To have the transcript sent to a different address, you would need to send in a form 4506-T.

There is no cost for either the return or account transcript. However, if you need an exact copy of your filed return and all attachments, complete Form 4506-T, Request for Copy of a Tax Return. There is a charge of $57 for each tax period requested. Jointly-filed returns may be requested by either spouse; only one spouse's signature is required.

In taxes, accurate paperwork is everything. If you've never had a missing W-2, consider yourself lucky. Anyone who has been in that situation will tell you how important it is to keep your most recent pay stub, at least until you get the next one. If you leave a job midyear, keep your final pay stub until you get your W-2 from that company.

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