When Do You Need Your Prior Year Tax Return Information?

If you’re trying to find information from your prior years’ tax returns and you don’t have the old forms (who has the space to keep all that!?), you have a few options available to you.

Generally speaking, your tax preparer should have old records for you – as long as it wasn’t too long ago.  Sometimes this is a challenge for the preparer, as changes to software and office systems can result in difficult to retrieve records, although within reason your preparer should be able to get the forms for you.

If your preparer either doesn’t have the information or you’re reluctant to approach the preparer for the information, or you’ve moved, or the preparer is no longer in business, you have another option available to you:  the IRS.

According to IRS Tax Tip 2011-13, there are nine things you need to know if you need federal tax return information from a previously-filed tax return.

  1. There are three options for obtaining free copies of your federal tax return information – on the web, by phone or by mail.
  2. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are presently available for the current tax year as well as the past three tax years.
  3. A tax return transcript shows most line items from your tax return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules.  It does not reflect any changes made after the return was filed.
  4. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed.  This transcripts shows basic data – including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income.
  5. To request either transcript online, go to the IRS Website and look for the new online tool called Order A Transcript.  To order by phone, call 800-908-9946 and follow the prompts in the recorded message.
  6. To request a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ tax return transcript through the mail, complete IRS Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript.  Businesses, partnerships and individuals who need transcript information from other forms or need a tax account transcript must use the Form 4506T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.
  7. If you order online or by phone, you should receive your tax return transcript within 5 to 10 days from the time the IRS receives your request.  Allow 30 calendar days for delivery of a tax account transcript if you order by mail using Form 4506T or Form 4506T-EZ.
  8. If you still need an actual copy of a previously processes tax return, it will cost $57 for each tax year that you order.  Complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area.  Copies are generally available for the current year as well as the past six years.  Please allow 60 days for actual copies of your return.
  9. Visit the IRS Website to determine which form will meet your needs.  Forms 4506, 4506T and 4506T-EZ can be found at the IRS Website or by calling the IRS forms and publications order line at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

IRS CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication (or in any attachment) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this communication (or in any attachment).

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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