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January 14, 2012


Can You File Your Tax Return Using Your Last Pay Stub?

by Tim Yeager, CPA
IRS 1040 Tax Form Being Filled Out

Image by kenteegardin via Flickr

One question tax preparers frequently get asked is “Can I file my return using my last pay stub?”

There are really two questions here:  1) Can an individual file their own return using a pay stub instead of a w-2?  And, 2) Can a paid tax preparer prepare and file a return based on a pay stub instead of a W-2?

First, let me deal with the issue of paid preparers.  The IRS states that it is “against e-file rules” for preparers to file with a pay stub instead of a W-2.  This is on their web-site here.  When they say “against e-file rules” I’m not sure exactly what rules they are talking about or if they are specifically referring to paid preparers or individuals filing their own return.  I’ve read through the entire Handbook for Authorized e-file Providers and the only mention of preparing returns from a pay stub is on page 48 where it talks about advertising.   But, on page 30 it states that paid preparers must retain “Copies of Form W-2, W-2G and 1099-R”.  How can you retain a copy of it if you never saw the W-2 in the first place?  Do you really think that the client is going to bring back the W-2 later just so that you can keep a copy?  I don’t think so.  Paid preparers need the W-2 up front in order to protect themselves.  In addition, one of the questions that must be answered in all professional tax software when e-filing is “Check if this is hand written, altered or appears not to be a true W-2”.  So, how would you know if you haven’t seen it?

Now, the issue of an individual filing their own return.  I cannot find any specific rules against this.  However, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Not all information is on the pay stub.  The Employer EIN, for example, isn’t.  Got it on last year’s W-2?  Not so fast.  Sometimes employers change their EIN.  Also, the categorization of retirement contributions isn’t clear on the last paystub.  For example on the W-2 in Box 12A, 12B, 12C or 12D it usually has the letters A,B,C,D, etc. denoting what kind of retirement contribution it is.  There are other items as well that might appear on the W-2 that are not on the last pay stub.

2. Your YTD info on your pay stub might be wrong.  This could be for a variety reasons, like your employer changing software or payroll services during the year.  Sure, they should have reconciled everything and made it accurate but they may not have done that yet when you got the last pay stub.  Some payroll preparers double check all the numbers before sending out W-2’s and if they find an error and then correct it on the W-2 it would be different from the last pay stub.

In summary, paid preparers definitely need to see the actual W-2 and taxpayers filing their own return would be best served to wait for it as well.


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