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 -- or ask your employer where to look.
Verify your mailing address. If you've moved since the beginning of the year or someone was careless in processing the forms, your forms might have inadvertently been mailed to an old, incomplete or bad address. Verify that the information your employer has on file is correct.
Contact the IRS. If you've checked with your employer, verified your address and still haven't received your forms, you can contact the IRS. But don't do it too soon -- the IRS specifically requests that you wait until Feb. 15 before calling about a missing form. The number to call is 1-800-829-1040. 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.
File form 4852. If your employer doesn't respond to the IRS promptly enough for a timely filing of your tax return, you can go ahead and file the form 4852. But before you file, be sure and allow plenty of time after you receive the form 4852 for your employer to respond.
File an amended return, if necessary. If you receive missing or corrected forms from your employer after you've already filed your tax return, and you need to make a correction, you can amend your return using a form 1040X: Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Amended returns can take several weeks to be processed, so give your employer some time to respond to the IRS before you file your return.
While it's true that you should receive most of your tax documents by the Jan. 31 deadline, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule:
Schedule K-1. If you are the beneficiary of a trust or estate during 2010, you will likely 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 in an S corporation taxed as a partnership, you should expect a Schedule K-1. The Schedule K-1 indicates the share of income and expenses attributable to you from the estate, trust, LLC, partnership or S corporations. Schedules K-1 cannot be issued until after the underlying fiduciary or corporate tax return has been completed, so it's not unusual for you to receive those forms after the Jan. 31 deadline, all the way up to April 18. If you think you might receive a Schedule K-1 this year, consider filing an extension.
IRA contributions. One of the easiest ways to reduce your taxes due is to make a contribution to an IRA. You have until April 18, 2011, to make the contribution and use the deduction for the 2010 tax year. Since IRA contributions and rollovers might not even be made until April 18, the forms to report those transactions clearly won't be delivered by Jan. 31. If you're making a contribution prior to filing your tax return, consider filing an extension.
If you don't receive your forms on time, it's not the end of the world. 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, proactive taxpayer.