What are the codes in Form W2 Box 12?

Form W-2 can appear overwhelming, particularly Box 12 with its long list of technical codes. As an employer, it is up to you to furnish accurate information with the correct presentation. Start with an understanding of what the codes represent.

by Naomi Levenspil
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, is a year-end tax document that employers must file. A W-2 reports wage and salary information and taxes withheld. Taxpayers need to input the information from their W-2 onto their federal and state tax returns.

As a small business owner you are responsible for providing employees with a timely W-2, as well as furnishing a copy to the IRS. Although the concept is simple, a W-2 has many different boxes and codes, and it is important that you understand what you are required to report in each field.

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What is Box 12 on a W-2?

Box 12 is a general catch-all for recording various types of income. Box 12 consists of four sections, 12a-12d. These are just references to organize the space and don't have any significant meaning.

W2 Box 12 uses codes A through HH to identify a general potpourri of miscellaneous forms of income that must be reported to the IRS. Some of these figures are taxable amounts that are also included in wages elsewhere on the W-2, while some represent non-taxable amounts for informational purposes only.

W2 Box 12 codes and explanations

Below is a handy reference guide for what the codes in Box 12 represent. Note that although the codes appear in alphabetical order, some letters are unused and do not appear in the listing. For more detailed explanations, reference the IRS Instructions to Form W-2.

  • A and B: Uncollected social security and Medicare tax on tips collected by employees. There will be an amount here if employees collected tips and no social security or Medicare tax was withheld.
  • C: Taxable cost of group-term life insurance over $50,000. This is purely informational since the amounts are also included in boxes 1,3, and 5.
  • D, E, F, G, H, S, Y, AA, BB, EE: These lines all provide information about elective deferrals to retirement plan contributions, and designated Roth contributions.
    • D: Elective deferrals under a section 401(k) plan, including a SIMPLE 401(k).
    • E: Elective deferrals under a section 403(b) salary reduction agreement.
    • F: Elective deferrals under a section 408(k)(6) salary reduction agreement.
    • G: Elective deferrals and employer contributions to a 457(b) deferred compensation plan.
    • H: Elective deferrals under a 501(c) tax-exempt plan.
    • S: Employee contributions under a section 408(p) SIMPLE retirement plan.
    • Y: Deferrals under a section 409A nonqualified deferred compensation plan.
    • AA: Designated Roth contributions under a section 401(k) plan.
    • BB: Designated Roth contributions under a section 403(b) plan.
    • EE: Designated Roth contributions under governmental section 457(b) plan.
  • J: Non-taxable sick pay by a third party that was not includible in income, since the employee contributed to the sick pay plan. Do not include non-taxable disability payments made by a state.
  • K: 20% excise tax on golden parachute payments.
  • L: Non-taxable employee business expense reimbursement. (Taxable reimbursement is included as income in boxes 1, 3, and 5.)
  • M and N: Uncollected social security and Medicare tax on life insurance premiums exceeding $50,000. This is for former employees only.
  • P: Excludable moving expense reimbursements paid directly to members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Q: Nontaxable combat pay.
  • R: Employer contributions to an Archer MSA.
  • T: Employer-provided adoption benefits.
  • V: Income from the exercise of non-statutory stock options. This amount is included in Box 1.
  • W: Employer contributions to a health savings account (HSA).
  • Z: Income under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan that fails to satisfy Section 409A. This amount is included in Box 1.
  • DD: Cost of employer-sponsored health care. This amount is non-taxable.
  • FF: Permitted benefits under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement.
  • GG: Income from qualified equity grants under Section 83(i).
  • HH: Aggregate deferrals under Section 83(i) elections as of the close of the calendar year.

Although there are many codes available, keep in mind that most employees won't use many of them. The IRS provides detailed instructions and there are many reputable software programs that can walk you through the intricacies of preparing your W-2s in an accurate and timely fashion.

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Naomi Levenspil

About the Author

Naomi Levenspil

A CPA by trade, but a writer at heart, Naomi Levenspil jumps at the chance to exercise the right side of her brain. When… Read more

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