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?

Tax Tips

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  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 ( or by calling 800-829-3676.