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Get Prior Year Tax Information from the IRS

IRS Tax Tip 2017-22, March 1, 2017                                                                Español

There are many reasons to keep a copy of a tax return from a prior year. The IRS urges all taxpayers to keep copies of their tax returns for at least three years.

Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

Those who need a copy of their tax return should check with their software provider or tax preparer. Prior year tax returns are available from IRS for a fee.

Tax Transcripts

Taxpayers who cannot get a copy of a prior year return may order a tax transcript from the IRS. A transcript summarizes return information and includes AGI. They are free and available for the most current tax year after the IRS has processed the return. People can also get them for the past three years.

In applying for home mortgages or college financial aid, transcripts are often necessary. Mortgage companies, however, normally arrange to get one for a homeowner or potential homeowner. For people applying for college financial aid, they should use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on the Department of Education website. This tool will easily import the tax transcript onto the financial aid application.

Taxpayers can get two types of transcripts from the IRS:

  • Tax Return Transcript.  A return transcript shows most line items on a tax return as originally filed. People who need their 2015 adjusted gross income for filing purposes will select this type of transcript and look for “adjusted gross income.”

  • Tax Account Transcript.  This type of transcript shows adjustments or amendments made by taxpayers or by the IRS to a filed return.

To get a transcript, people can:

  • Order Online. Use the ‘Get Transcript’ tool available on IRS.gov. There is a link to it under the red TOOLS bar on the front page. Those who use it must authenticate their identity using the rigorous Secure Access process.

  • Order by phone. The number is 800-908-9946.

  • Order by mail.  Complete and send either Form 4506-T or Form 4506T-EZ to the IRS to get one by mail. Use Form 4506-T to request other tax records: tax account transcript, record of account, wage and income and verification of non-filing. These forms are available on the Forms & Pubs page on IRS.gov. 

Those who need an actual copy of a tax return can get one for the current tax year and as far back as six years. The fee per copy is $50. Complete and mail Form 4506 to request a copy of a tax return. Mail the request to the appropriate IRS office listed on the form. People who live in a federally declared disaster area can get a free copy. More disaster relief information is available on IRS.gov.

Plan ahead. Delivery times for online and phone orders typically take five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request. You should allow 30 days to receive a transcript ordered by mail and 75 days for copies of your tax return.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 06-Mar-2017