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You can get either exact copies or brief “transcript” of your past U.S. federal tax returns from the IRS.
Typically, you can request copies or transcripts of Tax Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ for up to 6 years after they were filed (after which they are destroyed by law). Copies of other types of tax forms may be available for longer than 6 years.
Exact Copies - $50 Each
You can request an exact copy of a past tax return by using IRS Tax Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return). Note that you can only order 1 type of tax return per request form, which means you must submit separate Forms 4506 if you need different types of returns. Make sure your full payment (of $50 per copy) is included with your request. Also keep in mind that it may take the IRS up to 75 days to process your request.
Copies of jointly filed tax returns may be requested by either spouse and only one signature is required. Allow 60 calendar days to receive your copies.
Transcripts of Tax Returns - No Charge
For many purposes, you can meet the requirements for past tax returns with a “transcript” - a computer print-out of the information on your old tax return - rather than an exact copy. A transcript may be an acceptable substitute for an exact copy of a return by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and lending agencies for student loans and mortgages.
A "tax return transcript" will show most line items contained on the return as it was originally filed. If you need a statement of your tax account which shows changes that you or the IRS made after the original return was filed, however, you must request a "tax account transcript". Both transcripts are generally available for the current and past three years and are provided free of charge. The period in which you will receive the transcript varies from within ten to thirty business days from the time the IRS receives your request for the tax return or tax account transcript.
You can obtain a free transcript by calling the IRS at toll-free 800-829-1040 and following the prompts in the recorded message.
You can also obtain a free transcript by completing IRS Form 4506-T (PDF), Request for Transcript of Tax Return, and mailing it to the address listed in the instructions.
Why Would You Need Old Tax Returns?
Why do thousands of taxpayers request copies of past returns every year? According to the IRS, there are lots of reasons, including:
- You Miscalculated: Something as simple as a minor math mistake on a tax form can leave you needing to resolve an issue with the IRS. Typically, you will need to re-file the return to resolve the problem.
- You Lost the Old Ones: Lots of taxpayers like or need to keep detailed tax records.
- You Need Proof: Many financial chores, like applying for a loan require proof of your past tax records.
- You Forgot Some Documents: The IRS might require you to recalculate your taxes is you forgot to attach certain documents. For example, you might need documents proving your deductions or a copy of a W2 form.
- You Are Filing for Bankruptcy: Let's hope you never do, but if you are filing for bankruptcy you'll need copies of your past tax returns. Being able to provide the bankruptcy court with a complete financial history is a top priority in the process.
Note for Taxpayers Trying to Get or Modify a Home Loan
To help taxpayers trying to obtain, modify or refinance a home mortgage, the IRS has created IRS Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript. Transcripts ordered using Form 4506T may also be mailed to a third party, such as a mortgage institution if specified on the form. You must sign and date the form giving your consent for the disclosure. Businesses, partnerships or individuals who need transcript information from other forms, such as Form W-2 or Form 1099, can use Form 4506-T (PDF), Request for Transcript of Tax Return, to obtain the information. These transcripts may also be mailed to a third party if there is consent for the disclosure.
Note for Taxpayers Impacted by Federally Declared Disasters
For taxpayer impacted by a federally declared disaster, the IRS will waive the usual fees and expedite requests for copies of tax returns for people who need them to apply for benefits or to file amended returns claiming disaster-related losses. For additional information, refer to IRS Tax Topic 107, Tax Relief Disaster Situations, or call the IRS Disaster Assistance Hotline at 866-562-5227.