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Help! I don't have all my tax documents!

Even though the online filing season for the IRS officially began Jan. 15, many taxpayers don't yet have their necessary tax forms. That's because the law allows employers and others charged with preparing tax forms to taxpayers to distribute those forms up until Jan. 31 -- unless Jan. 31 falls on a holiday or weekend, in which case the deadline is the next business day. That's the case this year, so that means that the deadline is Monday, Feb. 1.

What do you do if Monday comes and goes and you don't have your forms W-2, 1099, and other documents you need to file your tax return? Here are a few answers:

  1. Ask your employer. Don't assume your forms will be in your mailbox. It's not unusual for employers to hand deliver forms W-2 at work. Check to make sure yours isn't sitting in your inbox.
  2. Verify your address. If you've moved since the beginning of the year or someone was careless processing the forms, they might have been mailed to an old, incomplete or bad address. Verify that the information on file is correct.
  3. Contact the IRS. If you've checked with your employer and verified your address and still haven't received your forms, you should wait until mid-February before contacting the IRS. The IRS instructions specifically request that you wait until Feb. 15 before calling about a missing form. The number to call is 800-829-1040. You'll need to have your personal information handy, including your address, phone number, Social Security Number, dates of employment, and the name, address, and phone number of your employer.
  4. Wait for the IRS. After your call, the IRS will contact your employer (or the form issuer) with a form 4598, Form W-2, 1098 or 1099 Not Received, Incorrect, or Lost. You will receive a copy of that form 4598, along with a blank form 4852, Substitute for Form W–2 or Form 1099–R.
  5. File form 4852. If you still don't receive your form W-2, you can file the form 4852; be sure and allow plenty of time after you receive the form 4598 before filing the form 4852. The IRS requests that, generally, you wait until April 15 before you file the form 4852.
  6. File an extension. If you file the form 4852, you may need to file an extension in the meantime, just to be sure you're not penalized for filing a late return. The form you'd use to file an extension is a form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. For more information about extensions, check out this prior post.
While it's true you should receive most of the traditional forms (such as forms W-2 and 1099) by the Feb. 1 deadline, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule:

Schedule K-1. If you are the beneficiary of a trust or estate during the 2009, you may receive what's known as a Schedule K-1. Similarly, if you are a member of an LLC taxed as a partnership; a partner in a partnership or a shareholder for an S corporation taxed as a partnership, you should expect a Schedule K-1. The Schedule K-1 indicates your share of the income and expenses attributable to you. Schedules K-1 cannot be issued until after the underlying tax return has been completed - -so it's not unusual for you to receive those forms after the February 1 deadline, even right up to April 15. If you think you might receive a Schedule K-1 this year, consider filing an extension.

Form 5498. One of the easiest ways to reduce your taxes due is to make a contribution to an IRA. You have until April 15, 2010, to make the contribution and use the deduction for the 2009 tax year. Since the form 5498 reports IRA contributions and rollovers, which might not even be made until April 15, those form 5498s may be delivered to taxpayers until May 31. Again, if you think you might receive a form 5498 after April 15, consider filing an extension.

The main thing to remember is not to panic. If you don't receive your forms on time, it's not the end of the world. Be patient and follow the steps outlined above. The IRS is aware that these things happen from time to time and that it's not your fault. However, don't make a bad situation worse by doing nothing -- it's to your advantage to be a smart, pro-active taxpayer.

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