Here’s one that you can file under “what not to do”… You know your final paycheck of the year? The one with the check stub that reads “Year-to-Date”? It means nothing.

When I used to prepare returns, I used to cringe whenever a client brought in a paycheck stub and explained to me that they had lost/had not received/burned/stuffed in a pocket their form W-2 and wanted to use a check stub as a substitute. After all, they reasoned, there is a “Year-to-Date” column.

Yes, the “Year-to-Date” column is a reasonable representation of what you were paid and the taxes which were withheld during the year. But your form W-2 has a lot more information on it than just wages and withholding. There’s a breakdown of taxable benefits, deferred compensation, dependent care benefits, nontaxable combat pay, reimbursements, sick pay and other tax-related information. In most cases, you’re not going to find that information on a check stub.

Most importantly, the IRS matches up information from your form W-2 to your form 1040. So, er, shouldn’t you?

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.


  1. A lot of people think the final pay stub is as good as a w2. Yo’re right. It just isn’t. Some preparers however still have pay stub loans. These pay stub loans are promoted heavily in the earliest days of the tax season. That’s why the idea that you can use it to file your taxes just won’t die.

  2. It sometimes amazes me the things that people don’t think are important to bring in at tax time. But they can also get burned when they DO think. Here’s a tax horror-story for you:

    One of my clients didn’t get (or didn’t keep — I prefer didn’t get, since she said she hadn’t received several other pieces of mail during that timeframe, and I believe my clients — very rarely am I wrong) her SSA-1099. She knew she’d need it, so she called before her appointment and requested a duplicate (good girl!).

    Unfortunately for her, she was receiving her husband’s benefits (deceased for 5 years); and her husband’s SSN got highlighted on the duplicate SSA-1099 and inputted into the computer — GIGO. Of course, I got an IRS reject on the return (the IRS computer was understandably confused as to why a (5-year) deceased taxpayer was submitting a return. I called her, we got it straightened out; and I re-submitted her return. Sounds good so far, right? Everybody’s happy, right?

    In the meantime, however, the state had accepted the return under her husband’s SSN, and then proceeded to accept her (corrected) return. When I saw that, I had to call her back to warn her that, if she got two refunds from the state, don’t spend it all in one place! Contact me, first.

    Well, guess what? I know, you don’t even have to guess. We had to arrange with the state to send one check back (and, I told her to send it Return Receipt Requested — or, at the very least, keep the name of the lady to whose attention she sent the check).

    All I can say is that it’s fortunate that this client has a GREAT sense of humor (and irony).

    If you ever do another give-away for taxpayer horror stories, I reserve the right to re-submit this one!

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