Benjamin Franklin said there are only two things in life that you can count on–death and taxes. The 6,000 employees of the Muscogee County, Ga., school system got both when they received their W-2 earnings statements from the district. Instead of checking the pension-plan box, the computer that generated the forms checked the box marked “deceased.”

“My resurrection has been remarkable,” said Fred Jones, the district’s treasurer.

According to Jones, the district gets a notice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each year indicating any changes that have been made to the federal tax system. When this year’s notice said there were no changes to the W-2 forms, the programmer responsible for printing the forms assumed he could just use last year’s program.

“Unfortunately, the IRS did jimmy with the form a little bit, so the ‘X’ intended for the pension plan ended up in the box for ‘deceased,'” Jones said.

By the time district officials realized the mistake, it was too late to reprint the forms. The district orders only as many W-2 forms as it needs each year, Jones said, plus it is required to send the forms to employees by Jan. 31. “We had neither the time nor the stock to reprint,” he said.

The program that printed the forms had nothing to do with the data that went to the IRS, Jones said, so the agency has the correct information. “The advice we got from the Social Security Administration was to have employees correct their own forms by marking the right box before they send them in,” he said.

Along with the W-2 forms, the district issued a letter to its employees explaining the mistake. “We’ve gotten letters back from employees saying, ‘My accountant says you’ve got to reprint the form,’ but we’re done with it now,” Jones said.

The error, though “fatal,” has not proven costly. Jones said the district incurred only the “negligible additional expense” of printing the letters explaining what happened.

Since the mistake was reported, “I’ve gotten calls from a lot of other places that did the same thing,” Jones said. The county of Broward, Fla., printed 19,000 W-2 forms that way, Jones said, as did another school system in Georgia.

But “you can bet your bippy we’ll do a test printing of the forms next year,” he said.

Muscogee County School District

Internal Revenue Service