Lost or missing documents can turn tax season into a giant headache, but they don't have to stall you for long. Here are some common tax necessities that might go missing — and what you can do if they give you the slip.
LOST: Your W-2
What to do: Go to your HR or payroll department.
A W-2 reports how much your employer paid you during the tax year and how much tax it withheld on your behalf. Generally, employers have to provide W-2s to employees by Jan. 31. If yours was lost or never showed up, simply ask your employer for another one, says Mark Luscombe, a CPA and principal analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Many companies also offer electronic access to company documents, including tax statements.
What else you can try: Call the IRS. It might be able to contact your employer about the missing tax document. But if you're up against the filing deadline or your employer went out of business, you can file IRS Form 4852, a substitute W-2. You'll need to estimate your wages and taxes withheld for 2018; your final pay stub for 2018 can help provide these figures, Luscombe says.
LOST: Old tax returns
What to do: Get a tax transcript from the IRS.
This lets you see most line items from your federal tax returns for the current tax year and the previous three years. You can also get basic data such as how you paid and your adjusted gross income for the current tax year and up to the last 10 years. Tax transcripts are free, but aren't the same as a photocopy of your return. If that's what you're after, you'll need to fill out IRS Form 4506 and pay a fee.
What else you can try: Check your tax software or with your tax preparer.
"If you were using a tax professional, they probably have it on file," Luscombe says. If you've been using tax software, your software provider might still have your old returns.
LOST: A 1099
What to do: Log in to your investment account.
The 1099 is a record that some entity or person (not your employer) gave or paid you money. Some of the most popular ones — the 1099-DIV, 1099-B and 1099-R — report dividends, capital gains and other income from investments or retirement accounts. You can probably get one in the tax-documents section of your investment account's website.
What else you can try: Look at your year-end account statements.
Attaching 1099s to tax returns isn't required unless taxes were withheld from the payments, so if you can find the information somewhere else — like on your account statements — you might be OK, Luscombe says.
LOST: YOUR 1098
What to do: Log on to your bank account.
A 1098 shows how much interest you paid on a mortgage during the year. Your mortgage lender likely provides access to this and other tax documents online.
What else you can try: Look at your year-end mortgage statement.
You're not required to attach your 1098 to your tax return, Luscombe says, so if you can recreate the information from your monthly mortgage statement or similar papers, chasing down another copy of your 1098 may be unnecessary.
What to do if you can't get your documents in time:
GET AN EXTENSION
If the wait for missing documents will go beyond April 15, you can use IRS Form 4868 to get an extension. That will in general give you six more months to track things down. But beware: An extension gives you more time to file your tax forms — it doesn't give you more time to pay your taxes. You'll still need to estimate how much tax you owe and include that amount (along with your extension request) by April 15. Interest and penalties may apply if you pay less than what you actually owe, so take your estimate seriously.