NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you're missing a W-2 form from a former employer, you're not alone. Companies go out of business all the time and fail to send out tax forms before closing their doors, and if you changed jobs and moved there's a chance your former employer sent documents to the wrong address.
In either case, it's time you kicked your efforts to get your W-2 into high gear. Tax day is just a month away, and a missing form can really throw a wrench into an accurate filing and timely refund. We checked in with experts to find out what to do when your W-2 is nowhere in sight.
Start with your own detective work.
If you haven't already started making calls and sending emails to folks who might be able to track down your form, get on it, says Kay Bell, tax expert at Bankrate.com.
"Pull out all the stops," Bell says. "You want that official form. If your company closed and there are only a few executives left at the company, email the CEO, the CFO, anyone who might be able to help. That form is the one the IRS is looking for, and you need to track it down."
If you remember anyone's name in payroll or HR at your old company, try to reach out to them, suggests Craig Richards, tax guru at Fiduciary Trust.
"This happens all the time. People move and their mail stopped being forwarded, or the company doesn't exist anymore," Richards says. "But the people in HR and payroll are often the last people left standing when a company closes, and they'll be the ones who can quickly tell you if your forms went to the wrong address."
If someone at your former company encourages you to file a substitute W-2 (Form 4852) don't be afraid to give them some pushback. The IRS really wants to see your official W-2 -- it's easier for them to process.
"When you submit your taxes using the substitute form, it takes longer to process," Bell says. "They always have the question, 'Why is this being submitted? Is the taxpayer trying to pull one over on us? Is the employer doing something they shouldn't be?'"
"Try to track down whoever you can to get that form," Bell says.
File a substitute W-2.
When you file Form 4852, the IRS takes over trying to track down your W-2 for you, Bell says. Using the information on the form, they will contact the company and try to have them send you the W-2.
"They're going to contact them and give them a nudge and see if they can't get the ball rolling," she says. This process could take up to two weeks.
If that doesn't happen -- if the IRS efforts don't pan out -- you can use the 4852 as your substitute W-2, Bell confirms.
Form 4852 is going to ask you for your employer's old address, phone numbers, employer ID and how much you estimate your earnings to have been during the year. Most of this information should appear on old pay stubs, or on W-2 forms from previous years, which you should have if you worked for the company for more than a year.
"Find your last pay stub that you got from the company and use the information on there to fill out the 4852," Bell says. "Also, some stubs include a cumulative record of what you've earned and what you've paid in taxes. It's not always on there, but it will be very helpful if it is."
You'll simply file the 4852 along with everything else in your return, Richards says.
"Include a note if you want," he suggests. "Say, 'Hey, this is all my information to the best I know it. This is my employer's information and my earnings information and I tried calling but I haven't gotten any help, please use this as a substitute.' It shows you're being proactive with the information you do have."
Don't give up trying to get your W-2.
Even once you've filed a 4852, keep trying to get your actual W-2 from your former employer. If you get it, you'll need to file an amended return.
"If you receive your W-2 after you've filed your taxes using the 4852 and your income was different than what you reported, you'll need to file an amended return to show the correct earnings amount," Bell says.
An amended return is a one-page form that explains why you are changing your filing. On this form you would simply write something along the lines of: "I finally received W-2 information from my former employer. It's more (or less) than what I originally reported and my taxes were more (or less) than they should have been."
"It will only cost you the price of a stamp," Bell says. "You don't have to do another e-filing or sit down with your accountant all over again."