Can't find a copy of the tax return you filed last year or an earlier year? Don't worry. If you had your tax return completed by a paid preparer, that person should be able to provide you with a copy of the return. If this is not an option, the IRS has different ways for you to get tax return information or a copy of your return for a prior year. Your options include the following:
IRS Tax Transcripts
You can obtain a transcript of a prior year's return. A transcript is not a copy of your return. Instead, it is a summary of the most important information on the return. A transcript should be adequate for most purposes. The best thing about transcripts is that they are free. Transcripts are available for the current tax year and the past three tax years. There are two types of transcripts:
Tax Return Transcript
This type of tax transcript shows most line items from your tax return as originally filed, along with any forms and schedules from your return. It usually contains the information that a third party (such as a mortgage company) requires. However, this transcript does not reflect any changes made to the return after you filed it.
Tax Account Transcript
A tax account transcript shows any adjustments made by you or the IRS after filing your return. This transcript has basic data, like marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income, and taxable income. You'll need this transcript in addition to your tax return transcript if you amended your return after you filed it.
How to Order a Transcript
You can request both types of tax transcripts online, by phone, or by mail. To place your order online, go to www.IRS.gov and use the “Order a Transcript” tool. You can order a transcript by phone by calling 800-908-9946. A recorded message will guide you through the process. You can also request your tax return transcript by mail by completing Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript. Use Form 4506T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return, to mail a request for your tax account transcript. You can get both forms online at www.IRS.gov.
Obtaining Tax Return Copies
You can only get a transcript going back three tax years. If you need something older than that, you'll have to order a copy of your actual filed tax return. Also, there may be cases where a transcript won't do, and you need a copy of your actual return--for example, this may be required if you want to obtain a bank loan. Copies of your tax returns are generally available for the current tax year and as far back as six years. Unfortunately, obtaining a copy of your return is expensive: The fee for each copy you order is $57. To request a copy of your tax return, complete IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, available at www.IRS.gov. Mail your request to the IRS office listed on the form for your area.
The turnaround time for online and phone orders is typically five to ten days from the time the IRS receives the request. Allow 30 calendar days for delivery of a tax account transcript if you order by mail using Form 4506T-EZ or Form 4506T, and allow 60 days when ordering actual copies of your tax return by mail.
For help understanding the details of your return once you receive it, see Nolo's section on Understanding Your Tax Return.