W-2 vs. 3401(a) wages?

What is the difference between W-2 wage and 3401(a), I'm confused?  I am working on a 401k transition and I need to know the difference so I correctly answer one of the questions regarding our definition of compenstaion under the plan.  Please help! 


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  • From a message on the BenefitsLink forum, here are a few responses:

    (1)  A simplified explanation of the difference is 3401(a) wages are shown on your paycheck each pay period. This is the amount subject to tax withholding. W-2 wages are calculated for the year and include the additional amounts, if any, that do not have income tax withheld. If you ever have a difference between the total amount on your last paycheck for the year and your W-2, you'll see the difference.

    (2) There is a distinction between income subject to income tax withholding (3401(a) wages) and income included for income tax reporting (W-2 wages). All amounts included in 3401(a) wages would also be included in W-2 wages. However, certain income is exempt from income tax withholding and would not be included in 3401(a) wages, but would be included in W-2 wages (such as group term life insurance provided by the employer).

    (3) The ERISA Outline book has a nice chart comparing the three definitions of compensation.

    (4) I would guess that one difference might be taxable fringe not paid in cash, e.g. excess life insurance. You can't withhold directly from something like that. Just a guess, but clearly some taxable things can't have withholding apply.

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