All About Form W-3, And What It’s Used For

Working on your Form W-3? We’ll help you understand what it is, when to file it, and how to fill it out

Almost everyone has heard of Form W-2, the tax form employers send to their employees to help them file annual tax returns. But for business owners with employees, form W-3 is just as important.

The W-3, or “Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements,” is the form employers use to report employee wages and tax withholdings to the Social Security Administration (SSA), and it’s filed annually. Part of what makes the W-3 unique is that each employer only has to file one form, as it combines the wage and tax information for all of your employees. You do not have to produce an individual form for each employee, and you do not send the employees a copy.

However, if you own multiple businesses or employ people in more than one type of setting, you should file separate W-3 forms that summarize all of the W-2 forms in each setting.

For example, Darden Restaurants is a restaurant corporation that oversees several different restaurant brands, including the Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and a few others. They would file separate W-3 forms for each of those establishments. But for the most part, small and medium sized businesses will only have to file one W-3 form.

Moreover, you only have to file the W-3 if you are sending paper copies of your employee W-2 forms to SSA. If you file the W-2 forms electronically, you do not have to file form W-3.

It looks like this:

W3 Form

How to fill out the W-3

Before you begin filling out form W-3, gather all of your completed employee W-2 forms. On the W-3, you will be reporting the sum of all the information you reported on form W-2.

The instructions for form W-3 are very similar to the W-2 instructions, and they’re pretty simple.

As you look at the form, you’ll see lettered and numbered boxes. First, let’s take a look at boxes A through H, which all apply to you, the employer.

  • Box A is optional. If you wish, you can use it to assign a control number for numbering the entire submittal. (This W-3 plus all of your W-2 forms.)
  • Box B has two parts: kind of payer and kind of employer.
    • In the first section of Box B, you check off the appropriate box according to the type of payer you are. You can identify the appropriate box by looking for the name of the form you use to report your employees’ quarterly earnings to the IRS. So if you own a business that uses form 941, check the 941 box. In fact, most employers will check 941, with a few exceptions.
    • The kind of employer section is pretty self-explanatory. If you run a non-profit or manage a government agency, check one of those boxes. If not, check “none apply.”
  • Box C: Here you write the total number of W-2 forms you are submitting.
  • Box D: This box applies to businesses with more than one establishment under the same entity. Be sure the number you enter is the same as the number you entered on your W-2 forms.
  • Box E: This box is for your employer identification number (EIN).
  • Box F: The name of your organization.
  • Box G: Your business address.
  • Box H: If you used any other EIN this year, enter it here. For example, if the business changed ownership during the year, both the former owner and new owner will have their own EIN.

In boxes 1 through 19, enter the combined income and withholding information from all of your W-2 forms. I’m not going to describe them line by line because they are self-explanatory. But if you need more instructions for these boxes, you can find them here.

When to file the W-3 form

According to SSA rules, all employers must file their W-2 and W-3 forms by January 31 of the year following the tax year.

Incidentally, this is the same deadline for sending your W-2 forms to employees. However, we recommend giving the W-2 forms to your employees a couple weeks early whenever possible. This gives your employees a little time to review the forms and find potential errors before you have to report the information to SSA.

The deadline for giving W-2 forms to employees and sending W-2 and W-3 forms to the Social Security Administration is the same date: January 31 of the year following the tax year.

If you think you might not be able to submit the W-2 and W-3 forms to SSA on time, you can request a 30-day extension. You do this by filing Form 8809 – Application for Extension of Time to File Information Returns. But be careful. The IRS only grants extensions under extraordinary circumstances. It’s not automatic.

What if you make a mistake?

Let’s say there’s a mistake on one of your employee’s W-2 forms, and you didn’t catch it before you submitted form W-3. Or perhaps you simply made an error on the W-3 form. In either of those cases, you can 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 any affected employees a copy of their form W-2c.

How to file form W-3

If you are submitting paper Copy A of your employee W-2 forms, simply include the W-3 form with that submittal.

If you use the U.S. Postal Service, send the forms to:

Social Security Administration
Direct Operations Center
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18769-0001

(for Certified Mail Use ZIP code 18769-0002)

If you use a private delivery service like UPS or FedEx, use this address:

Social Security Administration
Direct Operations Center
Attn: W-2 Process
1150 E. Mountain Drive
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702-7997

However, SSA strongly encourages all employers to file electronically whenever possible. If you choose to file electronically, you’ll need to sign up for SSA’s business services online (BSO) platform.

There are two options for electronic filing with BSO. The first is to use the fill-in forms available on the website. Simply enter all of your employee wage and tax information into the forms and create employee W-2s right there. The software will create the W-3 for you based on the information in your W-2s.

Alternatively, you can upload your wage files from your payroll software, if your software includes that option. This will only work if your files are formatted a certain way, so check on this before you purchase new software.

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