Common Tax Forms Employers Need to Know: A Complete Guide

By hrlineup | 23.04.2024

In business operations, particularly for employers, navigating the intricacies of tax compliance is paramount. Understanding the various tax forms required by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is essential to ensure accuracy and avoid penalties. From reporting employee wages to withholding taxes, employers must be well-versed in the forms they must file. This comprehensive guide will delve into the most common tax forms employers need to know, providing detailed insights into their purposes, and requirements and how to navigate them effectively.

1. Form W-4: Employee’s Withholding Certificate

Form W-4, officially titled “Employee’s Withholding Certificate,” is one of the first documents employers encounter when onboarding new hires. Employees complete this form to indicate their federal income tax withholding preferences. It includes information such as the employee’s filing status, number of allowances, and any additional amount they wish to withhold.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that each new employee fills out a Form W-4 accurately. The information provided on this form determines the federal income tax employers withhold from employees’ paychecks. Employers must maintain updated W-4 forms for all employees, especially when an employee’s personal or financial circumstances change.

2. Form W-2: Wage and Tax Statement

Form W-2, also known as the “Wage and Tax Statement,” is perhaps one of the most critical tax forms employers must prepare and distribute to employees. This form summarizes an employee’s earnings and tax withholdings for the previous calendar year. Employers are required to provide a W-2 to each employee by January 31st of the following year.

The information on Form W-2 includes total wages earned, federal and state income tax withheld, Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld, and any other deductions or contributions such as retirement plan contributions. Employers must also submit copies of Form W-2 to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and applicable state tax agencies.

3. Form 1099

Form 1099 is a series of documents used to report various types of income other than wages, salaries, and tips. As an employer, you may need to issue Form 1099 to individuals or entities you’ve paid for during the tax year. This includes independent contractors, freelancers, vendors, and other non-employees who have provided services to your business.

There are several types of Form 1099, each serving a specific purpose:

  • Form 1099-MISC: Used to report miscellaneous income, including payments of $600 or more for services performed by non-employees.
  • Form 1099-NEC: Introduced in 2020, this form reports nonemployee compensation, such as payments to independent contractors, freelancers, and gig workers.
  • Form 1099-INT: Reports interest income earned on investments, such as savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or bonds.
  • Form 1099-DIV: Used to report dividends and distributions from stocks and mutual funds.
  • Form 1099-R: Reports distributions from pensions, annuities, retirement plans, or insurance contracts.

Employers must ensure accurate reporting on Form 1099, including the recipient’s name, address, taxpayer identification number (TIN), and the total amount paid during the year. Failure to file correct information or issue the forms on time can result in penalties from the IRS.

4. Form 720

Form 720, also known as the Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return, is used to report and pay excise taxes on specific goods, services, and activities. While not all businesses are required to file Form 720, those engaged in activities subject to excise taxes must do so every quarter.

Some ordinary excise taxes reported on Form 720 include:

  • Environmental taxes
  • Communication taxes
  • Fuel taxes
  • Retail taxes on certain types of sales
  • Manufacturers taxes on goods such as alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and transportation equipment

Employers must accurately calculate and report their excise tax liability on Form 720, ensuring compliance with IRS regulations. Failure to file or pay excise taxes can lead to penalties and interest charges.

5. Form 941: Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return

Form 941, known as the “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” is filed quarterly to report income taxes, Social Security tax, and Medicare tax withheld from employees’ wages. It also includes the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Employers must file Form 941 by the last day of the month following the end of each calendar quarter (April 30, July 31, October 31, and January 31). This form reconciles the amounts withheld from employees’ paychecks with the total tax liability for the quarter. Accuracy is crucial, as discrepancies may lead to penalties or interest charges.

6. Form 940: Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return

Form 940, the “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” is an annual filing required from employers to report and pay federal unemployment tax. This tax helps fund unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs.

Employers must file Form 940 by January 31st of the following year, reporting wages paid and unemployment taxes owed for the previous calendar year. This form also reconciles any FUTA tax deposits made throughout the year. Failure to file Form 940 or pay the required taxes can result in penalties and interest charges.

7. Form 1095-C: Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage

Form 1095-C is used by applicable large employers (ALEs) to report information about the health insurance coverage they offer to full-time employees. ALEs, defined as employers with 50 or more full-time employees or equivalents, must furnish Form 1095-C to employees by January 31st of the following year.

This form provides employees with information about their health insurance coverage and helps determine their eligibility for premium tax credits through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace. Employers must also file copies of Form 1095-C with the IRS by the end of February if filing by paper or the end of March if filing electronically.

8. Form 1040

Form 1040 is the standard individual income tax return U.S. taxpayers file annually. While not specific to employers, understanding Form 1040 is essential for business owners who operate as sole proprietors, partnerships, or S corporations, as their business income is reported on their personal tax return.

Employers may need to provide information to employees to help them complete Form 1040, such as W-2 wage and salary statements, which report annual earnings, taxes withheld, and other pertinent information. Employers should ensure accurate and timely distribution of W-2 forms to employees and file copies with the Social Security Administration (SSA).

9. Form 6251

Form 6251, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for Individuals, is used to determine if taxpayers owe alternative minimum tax in addition to their regular income tax. While not specific to employers, understanding Form 6251 is important for individuals who may be subject to the AMT, including business owners who claim certain deductions or credits.

The AMT applies to taxpayers with high incomes who may otherwise benefit from significant deductions or exemptions, such as those related to employee stock options, accelerated depreciation, or certain tax-exempt interest. Form 6251 helps taxpayers calculate their alternative minimum tax liability and determine if they owe additional tax.

10. Form I-9

Form I-9, also known as the Employment Eligibility Verification Form, is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. While not a tax form per se, Form I-9 is a critical document for employers to ensure compliance with immigration laws and regulations.

Employers must complete Form I-9 for each employee hired, including citizens and noncitizens. The form requires employees to provide documentation to establish their identity and eligibility to work in the U.S., such as a passport, driver’s license, or Social Security card. Employers must retain Form I-9 for a specified period and make it available for inspection by authorized government officials.


Navigating the landscape of tax compliance can be a daunting task for employers, but understanding the various tax forms is crucial for maintaining legal and financial compliance. From Form W-4 to Form 1095-C, each form serves a specific purpose in the realm of payroll and tax reporting.

Employers must ensure they accurately complete and file these forms within the designated deadlines to avoid penalties and maintain smooth operations. Staying informed about changes to tax laws and regulations is also essential, as they can impact the requirements and obligations associated with each form.

By familiarizing themselves with these common tax forms and seeking professional guidance when needed, employers can streamline their tax reporting processes and focus on driving their businesses forward with confidence and compliance.