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Your W-2 Tax Form Is Coming: 3 Key Numbers to Review

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w-2 formAs tax season ramps up, tens of millions of workers will soon be getting W-2 tax forms from their employers. Your W-2 has the key information that will determine whether you get a refund or owe more taxes to the IRS this year. And it also has numbers you can use to improve your tax planning for the future.

Here are three numbers to pay special attention to on your W-2.

Box 1: Your Total Pay

The most important part of the W-2 is at the top in Box 1, which gives you your total taxable compensation. Note that it will be higher than your take-home pay -- typically much higher due to the big amounts that most people have withheld from their paychecks for taxes. But as you'll see below, it doesn't include some important benefits that qualify for special tax treatment.

Box 2: Federal Income Tax Withheld

This box holds the key to whether you'll owe money or get a refund come tax due day. If you've completed your tax withholding forms correctly, this number should correspond pretty closely to your total tax liability. If it doesn't, then you can fix it by going to your HR department and completing a new Form W-4. That won't fix anything for your 2012 tax returns, but it should make next year's returns a bit closer to your actual liability.

Box 12: Special benefits

The reason this box is so important is that it includes all the special tax breaks you're entitled to. Contributions to 401(k) retirement plans, flexible spending accounts, and other benefits that let you divert what would ordinarily be taxable wages and convert them to pre-tax piggybanks show up here. And the more you have listed, the lower your taxes will be -- and the better you're taking advantage of everything your employer offers.

Get the whole story

To learn more about the other lines of your W-2, take a look at H&R Block's infographic with line-by-line descriptions of what's on this important tax form.

Click image to see a larger versionUnderstanding Your W2 Form
The Complete Guide To The W-2 Form
via H&R Block

You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger.

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ghelm92160

I notice on my form that in box 12 it was designated DD. It was the amount my company paid for my health insurance and the figure was qualified as non taxable. So why was this figure carved out. I'm suspicous that our government want that info to create a tax in the future and is now keeping statistics to designate the possible revenue and to determine the tax rate you will have to pay in the future. Is this in the ACA to be implemented down the road? Anyone want to enlighten me?

January 27 2013 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
salchi25

I remember when this counrty , was the best , of yhe world.!!!!!!!!

January 23 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Thresa Jones

DO U AGREE WITH THIS? FIRST OF ALL ARE U AWARE THAT MILLIONS OF PEOPLE HIT THE LOTTERY EVERY YEAR AT TAX TIME BECAUSE LETS SAY THEY TAKE OUT 2500.00 OUT OF THEIR PAYCHECKS OVER THE YEAR THEN OUR INTELLIGENT GOVERNMENT GIVES THEM BACK FROM 7000.00 TO 9000.00 IN A REFUND. THAT MEANS NOT ONLY THAT PERSON DOESN'T PAY ONE PENNY IN TAXES BUT THEY GET BACK ALL THEY PAID IN BUT ALSO GET A HUGE BONUS OF AROUND 6000.00 EXTRA BECAUSE THEY HAVE A CHILD OR TWO. HMM ANYONE WITH ANY BUSINESS SENSE AT ALL KNOWS THAT NO BUSINESS OR GOVERNMENT CAN SURVIVE BY GIVING BACK MORE THAN THEY TAKE IN. EVERYBODY SHOULD PAY SOME KIND OF TAXES PERIOD. THEY SHOULD NOT HIT THE LOTTERY EACH AND EVERY YEAR BY GETTING BACK THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS THAT THEY DID NOT EVEN PAY IN THAT IS INSANE AND ONE OF THE BIG REASONS THAT THE US IS BROKE AND CLOSE TO JUST FOLDING UP LIKE A DECK OF CARDS AND CLOSING AND IF IT DOES THERE WON'T BE ANY SOCIAL SECURITY CHECKS OR HEY ALL THE FREEBIES WILL ALSO STOP LIKE FREE FOOD AND FREE HELP WITH HALF YOUR RENT AND US WORKING PEOPLE PAYING TO HEAT YOUR HOUSE SO SOMEBODY SHOULD REALLY START PAYING ATTENTION BEFORE IT ALL JUST CLOSES UP BECAUSE OF MILLIONS OR WHO KNOWS HOW MANY BUT PRETTY MUCH EVERYBODY THAT I KNOW GETTING A REFUND FOR APPROX 6000.00 MORE THAN THEY EVEN PAID IN. WAKE UP PEOPLE WE ARE BROKE AND OUR INFRASTRUCTURE SUCH AS BRIDGES ARE FALLING IN BECAUSE WE CANNOT DO THE REPAIRS THAT ARE NEEDED TO KEEP THEM SAFE. COMMON SENSE IF U WERE TO BE RUNNING THE GOVERNMENT AND ARE GIVING PEOPLE MORE MONEY THAN WAS EVEN WITHELD FROM THEIR PAY BACK U DON'T HAVE TO BE VERY SMART TO KNOW THAT IT WILL GO BROKE WHICH WE ARE BEYOND BROKE AND 17 TRILLION IN DEBT. EARNED INCOME CREDIT IS A DISASTER WHAT BRIGHT PERSON PUT INTO THE TAX LAW HEY LETS GIVE THE LARGEST GROUP OF TAXPAYERS MORE MONEY THAN THEY PAID IN? YES THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE LOVE TAX TIME BECAUSE IT IS LIKE HITTING THE LOTTERY EVERY SINGLE YEAR BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT LOSING BECAUSE THEY WIN EVERY YEAR AND ITS A SURE THING HA THEY ALREADY HAVE THEIR NEW COMPUTER AND FLAT SCREENS AND CARS ALL PICKED OUT. THIS GIVING BACK THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS MORE THAN YOU PAID IN IS JUST IGNORANT WE ALL HAVE TO PAY TAXES TO KEEP OUR BRIDGES ETC SAFE ATTEMPT TO PAY OFF OUR DEBT BUT WE CANNOT DO THAT BY GIVING BACK MORE THAN A PERSON PAYS IN THAT IS JUST INSANE...THAT OLD SAYING THAT THERE ARE TWO THINGS THAT YOU HAVE TO DO IN LIFE ONE IS TO DIE THEY OTHER IS TO PAY TAXES IS NOT TRUE NOW DAYS BECAUSE JUST ASK AROUND OR TAKE A LOOK AROUND AT PEOPLE YOU KNOW THAT JUST CAN'T WAIT TO FILE THEIR TAXES TO GET THEIR YEARLY LOTTERY WINNINGS JUST AS THEY RECEIVE EVERY YEAR. IT IS PROBABLY TO LATE TO SAVE AMERICA BUT WOULD YOU PLEASE REALLY THINK ABOUT WHAT I HAVE TAKEN THE TIME TO WRITE ON HERE AND IF YOU ARE READING THIS YOU PROBABLY REALLY CARE ABOUT FIXING THE PROBLEMS IN OUR COUNTRY. NO BUSINESS OR COUNTRY CAN SURVIVE BY GIVING PEOPLE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS MORE THAN THEY PAID IN ?

January 21 2013 at 3:10 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Thresa Jones's comment
beverlyamy1

i was with ya on the first 3 paragraphs,but couldnt keep my eyes open for the rest..geez.

January 30 2013 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kookiejoha58

great country!!

January 20 2013 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toosmart4u

What this country needs is a health system like Canada and Europe. This will never be for the republicans are in the pocket of the health insurance industry. This is where we will pay a lot for helath insurance because greed has taken over this country and a lot of people cannot understand this (republicans)/ Amen.

January 20 2013 at 8:15 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to toosmart4u's comment
slotplaer1

Obviously you don't know much about the health care system in Canada and Europe. You might want to educate yourself before you spew this nonsense.

January 27 2013 at 5:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jvmurphy2

I'm 10 days away from my 4th anniversary of unemployment and have come to realize that the 2009 economic downturn was my cleverly disguised retirement party.Surprise!!! One day (January 30th, 2009) I was cruising through life with substantial income, health iinsurance and weeks of paid vacation. The next day (January 31st, 2009) I found myself laid-off and trying to salvage life on 10% of my former wage, with NO health beneifits and NO paid vacations....Adding insult to injury, medical issues suddenly came into play. Now ow I'm $30K in debt due to complications of diabetes. I've had two toes amputated and another two subjected to tenomony (severance of the tendons so that the iinvolved toes lay flat when walking (I was getting bone infections from the pounding my toes were taking due to "clawing". Nice. Diabetes is a progressive disease and these surgeries are just the beginning,. I will inevitably lose one (or both) feet. I am left to hope other complications (kidney failure, stroke of heart attack) kill me first. I can't afford any more "petty" surgeries on my journey through life. It's hard to accept that the richest nation iin the world would abandoned us in our hours of need. After all, we've given so much for so long.

January 20 2013 at 1:43 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jvmurphy2's comment
granaryst

We are paying for the socialist our people have voted in. Some have paid more in the past like yourself but soon all of us will be paying like you have already started doing so. We are very sorry for your losses and our future losses. When our country re-elected Mr. Obama, our country showed us all that we are headed into poverty.

January 20 2013 at 2:57 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to granaryst's comment
ajt1025

The more you show the more you will pay. That is how the tax in this country works except if your rich. We pay they keep their money

January 19 2013 at 6:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ian.caldwell1

IDK wtf the new w2 is pooping on me for?? nobody cares about jackin around with W2 forms anyway butt we have to

January 19 2013 at 6:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dnkdltn

Be sure to generously donate to the Presidential Campaign Fund

January 19 2013 at 4:38 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dnkdltn's comment
beverlyamy1

lol,i hope that was a joke like him.

January 21 2013 at 12:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
carol

so what is the vote?

January 18 2013 at 10:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply