Taxing Conversations (Part 2): Organizing Fun With Forms

Posted on: January 24th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

Last time, we talked about simple steps for organizing the paperwork for your taxes. As Paper Doll mentioned, it all begins with gathering the right documents. Every taxpayer’s situation is different, but we’ll review the most common items you should be seeking and collecting in your Tax Prep folder.

Today, we’ll review the tax support documents called information returns. These are sent to you from outside entities and the law requires them to be provided, generally by January 31st, so they should require the least amount of effort on your part.


W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement)

If you’ve ever had a job, you’ve probably received a W-2. Not to be confused with a Federal W-4 (the form you fill out so that your employer knows how much tax to withhold), the W-2 is the form your employer gives you (and sends to the IRS) to report how much you were paid (in wages, salaries and tips) and, if applicable, how much money was withheld from you and paid to  federal and/or state governments for taxes and FICA (Social Security and Medicare).

Federal, state and local taxes, FICA, unemployment insurance and a few other withholdings are considered statutory payroll tax deductions. Statutes, or laws, require them. Wage garnishments for lawsuits or child support may be the result of non-statutory legal rulings specific to an individual. Your W-2 may also indicate other amounts withheld from your check, which are voluntary payroll deductions. These can include health and life insurance premiums, 401(k) or other retirement contributions, regular donations to the United Way, union dues, etc.

There are generally multiple copies of the same Form W-2. Your employers submit copy A directly to the Social Security Administration and keep copy D for their records. Copies B and C are for you — you send one to the IRS with your federal tax return and keep one for your own records. And, just to make sure you’re paying attention, copies 1 and 2 are provided to file with any applicable state or local tax authorities. (Don’t ask why they aren’t copies E and F. Paper Doll suspects it’s just to perturb her.)

Employers should mail W-2s by the last day of January, so if you haven’t received yours by Valentine’s Day, contact Human Resources (or, y’know, Madge, with the beehive hairdo, down the hall, as applicable). W-2s are usually mailed to the address listed on your W-4, though small businesses may just hand them to employees. Consider a few issues:

  • Did you change employers recently? If you had more than one job this year, be sure that you have received W-2s from each employer. If you changed jobs at the same company, you’ll generally only receive one W-2 from each employer, not one per position.
  • Did you change addresses since you filled out your W-4? There’s only so much a former employer will do to track you down and give you your W-2. Keep the boss updated!

Just because you don’t have your W-2 doesn’t mean the IRS didn’t get its Copy A. The IRS knows what you made, so be sure you do, too! (If your employer is no longer in business or is otherwise not responsible to your requests, the IRS has a procedure to allow you to file your taxes  in the absence of a W-2.)

When you receive your W-2, examine it carefully. Do the numbers seem right? If possible, compare them to the final pay stub you got for last year. Because the calendar year ended mid-week (and therefore, mid-pay period for most people), the numbers won’t correspond exactly, but they’ll be close enough for you to spot if something is seriously wrong. The sooner you call your employer’s attention to an error, the sooner you can prepare your return. (And again, that’s a good thing!)

W-2G is a cousin of the W-2. If you go to a casino and win more than $600 in any gambling session (congrats, by the way!), the “house” will request your Tax ID and either prepare a W-2G on the spot, or send it to you in January of the following year. Note: the IRS knows about your winnings, but not about your losses. To deduct  losses, the IRS requires you to be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses.


A 1099 is a form that basically says, “hey, we paid you some money for something other than being an employee.” You get a copy; the IRS gets a copy.

There’s not just one type of 1099; actually, there are a whole variety of 1099s.  Some of the more common are:


Got a bank account? This form reflects the interest income you receive from interest-bearing savings and checking accounts, money market bank accounts, certificates of deposit, and other accounts that pay interest. It also notes whether foreign or U.S. taxes were withheld and if there were any penalties assigned for early withdrawal from an interest-bearing account. Internet-only banks, like CapitalOne360, require you to log into your account to get your 1099-INT, so don’t count on it coming by mail.


Do you own stock or taxable investments? This form indicates the dividends or capital gains you received as an investor. Your broker, plan services company, mutual fund company or other type of investment company will send this form. Not all dividends are created equally; ask your tax professional if you have any that seem unusual or complicated.


This is what you may receive from a client or customer if you were an independent contractor (i.e., self-employed) or if you got any kind of miscellaneous revenue for doing work for someone else when you were not actually considered an employee. Even if someone paid you for doing work as an independent contractor, they may not know they should be sending you a 1099-MISC. This is why, if you are self-employed or irregularly employed, it’s still vital to keep track of your incoming revenue.

Your 1099s may be hiding in plain sight. Sometimes, instead of sending a 1099 in a separate envelope, a bank or brokerage house may include a 1099 form in the same envelope as (or even perforated, at the bottom of) a quarterly or end-of-year financial statement, so be sure to check all the “official” mail that arrives. Multiple forms may be sent as a “combined 1099,” scrolling across multiple pages, so check the reverse of other forms, in case you seem to be missing one.

A 1099 doesn’t always indicate that you were literally paid money. For example, a 1099-C indicates that a party has forgiven a debt, like a mortgage or part of a credit card balance. You may owe money on forgiven debts, and the 1099-C alerts the IRS that since you didn’t pay money owed, it’s as if you received money.

The IRS maintains a list of other types of 1099s and 1099-related forms.

1098 (Mortgage Interest Statement)

A 1098 is not a 1099 with low-self-esteem. This form reflects the interest you paid on your mortgage, which is generally deductible on your federal taxes. If you rent, you won’t have a 1098; the same goes if you paid off your mortgage prior to the most recent tax year.

There are sub-types of 1098s for things other than interest on property loans. For example, you might receive a 1098-C from a charitable organization if you donated car, boat or airplane. (Paper Doll suspects that if you donated an airplane, you probably tripped over my blog post on your way to Happy Millionaire Magazine.) Your college might provide you with a 1098-T to indicate you paid tuition, or a financial institution might send a 1098-E to show you’ve paid student loan interest.

Chance are good that you will receive a W-2, 1099 and/or 1098 in any given year, but there are many other less common information return forms. This lengthy list and description of all tax-related forms can help you if you receive something mysterious and vaguely official in your mailbox.

Again, these are the forms that others are required to send to you. Next time, we’ll finish up by exploring other kinds of paperwork that you may need to locate and organize to prepare your taxes, primarily documents that may take a little nagging or detective work on your part.

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