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March 30, 2006

Dog ate your W-2? Tax hotline can help

As this year’s tax filing deadline approaches, staffers on Pitt’s W-2 hotline are gearing up for a busy race to the finish.

“The busiest week is the week leading up to [April] 15,” said payroll operations manager Jeanne Garver, who leads the group.

The telephone hotline, manned by 10 payroll department employees beginning in early February, receives an average of 40 to 50 calls a day before it’s shut down for the season after the tax filing deadline has passed. (This year, because April 15 falls on a Saturday, the deadline is Monday, April 17.) To prepare for the season, hotline staffers complete a four-hour training session in January.

“With the number of W-2s we issue, we’re quite busy,” Garver said. Each year, the University distributes about 26,000 W-2s — the federal form that itemizes an employee’s yearly earnings and amount of taxes withheld, and 1042S forms — the equivalent for non-citizen employees.

For the sake of efficiency, callers are greeted with a recording that explains how to get a new W-2 issued. Those with other questions stay on the line to speak to a payroll representative.

In addition to the 10 front line staffers on the phones, a handful of employees are trained to handle more complex questions that may arise.

The majority of hotline calls are prompted by a missing form. “A lot of questions seem to be based on “I lost my W-2,” Garver said.

Of those 26,000 W-2s issued each year to faculty, staff and student employees, the payroll department re-issues about 1,000 that have been lost or not received.

Typically, people don’t realize their W-2 is missing until they sit down to do their taxes, hence the increase in calls as the filing deadline approaches, Garver said.

Mobility rather than irresponsibility seems to be the reason for many of the replacements. Many times the form wasn’t received because an employee changed addresses and failed to update his or her records with the University, Garver said.

After questions about lost W-2s, the next most frequent request is for explanations of the dollar figures contained in the various boxes on the form.

“There are a lot of things on a W-2 that people wonder what it is,” she said.

Garver stressed that the hotline service only deals with questions about W-2s. Callers with other tax-related questions are referred to the Internal Revenue Service web site or other sources of information. “We can provide facts but we can’t provide advice,” Garver said.

The hotline number, 412/624-1860, will be in service from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays through April 17.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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