How Can You Get a Copy of Your Tax Return? What is the Difference Between a Tax Return Transcript and a Copy of Your Transcript?

You’ve probably heard you should save your tax returns and supporting records for at least three (preferably seven) years after the filing deadline.  Of course, you’re also supposed to eat more bran, drink less soda, and drive your car slower.  Sometimes good intentions don’t quite play out.

Say you suddenly find yourself in need of one of your old tax returns.  Such a circumstance might come about when applying for a loan, be it a home mortgage, refinancing, or for college funding.  If you’re unable to find your tax return among the piles of old photo albums and dated baseball cards in your closet, the IRS can help.  Here’s how:

Request Your Tax Return

Surprising as this might be, to receive a copy of an old tax return from the IRS, you must fill out a form.  In this case, the paperwork is Form 4506, aptly named “Request for a Tax Return.”  While the form is straightforward, it is not without cost—each tax return you would like to receive will set you back $57.  (Why $57 and not $50 or $60 remains an uninvestigated mystery).  You can request any tax return up to six years old. (No, you can’t request someone else’s tax return.)

Once your check clears, expect your return(s) to arrive in about 2 months.  Note that if you are impacted by a federal disaster area, you probably won’t have to pay any fees.

Only Need the Highlights?  Get a Transcript

Sometimes, the requesting your entire return is unnecessary.  Given the cost, first check to see if a tax return transcript will satisfy your needs. If so, request a transcript, available at no cost.  To get your tax return transcript, simply dial 800-908-9946 or visit http://www.irs.gov.  Then, click Online Services and choose “Order a Transcript.”

A transcript provides all the most important line items for your return and is often sufficient for your lender’s documentation requirements. Unlike a full tax return, transcripts are available for the previous three years only.

To request your transcript, complete 4506-EZ, the short form for requesting an Individual Tax Return Transcript.  This relatively new form is streamlined, especially for those who are going through a mortgage application, refinancing, or modification.  As such, you can request your transcript be mailed directly to a third party such as your lender.

You can get all forms at the IRS web site (www.irs.gov) or by calling 800-829-3676.

Michael Rubin

Author of the bestseller Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck, and the upcoming The Savings Solution, Michael B. Rubin is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional. In addition to his experience providing sophisticated financial advice to affluent clients, Michael has been a key source of information for over a decade to countless others. He speaks passionately about and provides guidance on virtually all personal financial planning topics. Michael has appeared in various media, including radio and TV stations across the country, plus national media such as CNN Money.com, latimes.com, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney.com, Chicago Tribune, Financial Advisor Magazine, and Investment News. Prior to founding Total Candor LLC, Michael worked in the personal financial services practices of two of the former "Big Six" accounting firms. Subsequently working for several years as a new venture executive for Toys "R" Us, Inc., he made sure that he never actually grew up. He holds an undergraduate business degree from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Michael lives in New Hampshire with his wife and children.

Comments (28) Leave your comment

  1. What if I found descrepancy between original tax filing document and Tax return transcript even though there was no adjustments? I am applying mortgage and the lender found when they received the transcript from the 3rd party order. Should I contact IRS?

  2. I need tax return information for the years of 1990, 1991 and 2001. IRS and Soc. Security say they can not help me. One place of employment lost records in a flood. And another one would not look for any records since she was a new director and they were in the basement. HELP please!

  3. how can i get a copy of my 2011 tax returns. I no longer have access to my prio email address. I followed the instructions under my account and still no luck.

  4. How can I access my most recent tax return for 2011, I’m finding directions on how to find earlier returns but it seems like when I try to get my most recent return (2011′s) it just redirects me around to getting 2010 and earlier returns.

    I just want to access my most recent tax return forms,all I need it for is to prove that I didn’t claim my child this year.

    • Hi Mary,

      You can access your 2011 tax return by clicking on the “My Account” link at the top of TurboTax.com and logging into your account.

      Thanks,

      Ashley

  5. I filed etaxes in Aoril and I was under the imoression that I paid a fee to be able to access them again . Can I access them and print them out?

  6. Hi Lisa, whenever I request online or on the phone for my 2011 tax return transcript, it always says unavailable or something along those lines. I filed sometime a couple months ago. Is there a waiting period before you can request a transcript?

    • I need a copy of my 2008 on line filled tax papers. This was filled through Turbo tax. I have tried to get on your website to print out a copy, but can not find the paperwork. How do I get a copy. I need to mail the irs a copy no later than 9/20. Please help and advise.

      • I need a copy of my 2008 on line filled tax papers. This was filled through Turbo tax. I have tried to get on your website to print out a copy, but can not find the paperwork. How do I get a copy. I need to mail the irs a copy no later than 9/20. Please help and advise.

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