Q: What Is a W-3 Form and How Do I File It?

You’ve probably heard of the W-2, but if you have even one employee for your business, you’ll also need to know the W-3 form. 

Employers need to file Form W-3 each year to report employee wages and tax withholdings to the Social Security Administration. While an employee W-2 form shows that information for just one employee, the W-3 form combines the numbers for all of your employees in one place.

How do I fill out a W-3?

Form W-3 mostly asks for the same information as form W-2, making W-3 instructions relatively straightforward.

There are both lettered and numbered boxes on the form. In boxes A through H, you’ll enter information about your company, plus how many W-2s the form aggregates.

In box B, you’ll need to choose the Kind of Payer you are. Most private sector employers check “941,” a reference to Form 941 that they need to file. Check with your accountant to be sure.

You’ll also need to choose the Kind of Employer you are. Unless you are a government entity or nonprofit, you’ll select “None apply.”

In boxes 1 through 19, you’ll enter the combined income and tax information from all of the W-2s you’re including in this W-3 filing.

W-3 2020

How do I file my W-3?

Both W-2 and W-3 forms can be filed electronically or by mail. You’re required to e-file, however, if you have 250 or more W-2 forms.

Filing electronically

To file W-2 and W-3 forms electronically, you’ll need to register for the Social Security Administration’s business services online (BSO) platform.

Once you’re in, you have two options:

BSO then makes your life easier by generating a W-3 for you once you’ve submitted all of your W-2s.

Filing by mail

If you have fewer than 250 W-2s and would rather file paper forms, you’ll need to order them from the IRS or get them through your payroll processor.

Unfortunately, you can’t just print them out from the IRS website because those PDF forms include a special red color that isn’t scannable. If you try anyway, you could face a penalty.

Once you have the right forms, fill out a Form W-2 for each employee and then add up all of the numbers from each W-2 to enter on the W-3.

Then, send them to the address listed on the forms. Note that it will need to be the original, scannable form, not a photocopy.

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When do employers send W-2 and W-3 forms?

No matter your filing method, the submission deadline is January 31 each year for the previous year’s forms.

You’ll also need to send your employees a copy of their W-2 by that date. You’re not required, however, to share a copy of your W-3 with them.

If you make a mistake on your W-3 or you made an error on a W-2 that affects your W-3, you’ll need to file Forms W-2c and W-3c to make corrections.

There’s no deadline for these correction forms, but the IRS requests corrections to be filed as soon as possible after you discover the error. Employers must also give the affected employees a copy of their Form W-2c.

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