How Do I Access Old Tax Returns?
There may be times when you need to get a tax return from a certain year, such as if you’re applying for a mortgage or student aid. In the event that you are audited by the IRS or a state tax authority, it’s also a good idea to have copies of your tax returns if you had filed them.
Asking your accountant is normally the easiest course of action if you used one for preparing for your taxes. Here’s what you need to know about finding your past tax returns should you need them but did not use an accountant, or they are no longer around.
If you do your taxes yourself and use tax software, you should have your returns available for easy reference on the same device you used the last time you filed. Most tax software providers also provide online backup and storage of tax documents but it’s also prudent to use your own solutions such as Dropbox and password-protecting the files.
If you filed your own tax returns on paper, it’s considerably more difficult to get an exact copy of your return if you didn’t make a backup copy digitally or hard copy and you will need to contact the IRS and/or state tax authority.
Federal Tax Return Copies vs. Tax Transcripts
Contacting the IRS gives you the option to pick from a tax transcript or an actual copy of your tax return. Check with the party requesting this information and confirm which one they need because the process for both documents is different. The IRS can provide copies of previous individual tax returns (1040, 1040A, 1040-EZ) for up to the past 6 years. Other types of tax returns (like 1040-NR returns for nonresidents) may be available for longer timeframes.
A tax transcript provides proof that you filed tax returns in the past, as well as certain line items that third parties wish to verify such as adjusted gross income. Tax transcripts are available for currently open tax years only, so this means they go back up to the past three years. You can request tax transcripts online or by mail with Form 4506-T, as well as in person at IRS service centers. Tax return transcripts arrive in about 5-10 business days and are free of charge.
Tax return transcripts are usually sufficient for most mortgage and student lenders, wage and income transcripts usually work for student assistance and landlords. However, you may still need actual copies of prior year tax returns. To request them you need to file IRS Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return) by mail which is a relatively simple form to fill out, but you also must file a separate 4506 for each tax return copy you are requesting. You must provide your identifying information like name used when filing that return and Social Security Number. It also costs $50 for each copy of the tax return you are requesting so you have to include a check or money order for the correct amount payable to the United States Treasury. You will also receive any forms attached to your name for those years such as 1099s and W-2s. In the event that the IRS can’t find tax returns for you in the years requested, you will also get your money back.
The correct mailing address varies by state of residence so be sure to check Page 2 of Form 4506. Unlike tax transcripts which arrive relatively quickly, it takes about 75 business days for the IRS to honor your request for copies of past tax returns. If you anticipate needing copies of prior year tax returns for any reason (such as starting to house hunt in the next few months), you should definitely file Form 4506 as soon as possible and digitize the copies of your returns once you receive them.
Rue and Associates is here to assist you whether you’re filing with an accountant for the first time after self-preparing your tax returns, or you’d like to get your tax matters off on the right foot. Contact us today to speak to one of our friendly and professional tax law experts.