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Tax Guide
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Do You Need Your Previous Tax Returns?

Do You Need Your Previous Tax Returns?

Filing a single tax return as an American Citizen or a resident of another foreign country in which income taxes are assessed is a difficult enough. When expats live and work in a foreign country and have to pay taxes to both their host country and their home country, the task of filing more than 1 tax return (and even more than 2 for those who are required to file a state tax return) can become overwhelming. Keeping proper documentation of tax returns filed in previous years is even more challenging – especially considering the active and highly mobile lifestyle of many expats.

There are a number life events which require you to show at least 3 years of previous tax returns. Among them:

  • Applying for a home loan
  • seeking college tuition assistance
  • seeking business expansion or startup capital
  • a variety of other tasks requiring third party verification of your income, assets, and identity. 

Furthermore, the IRS sometimes sends notifications on previous years’ tax returns which may have been adjusted for one reason or another. In these circumstances, there is a specific item from a tax return to which the IRS refers in its correspondence and every other question that may be asked by the IRS representative about your case will have to be acquired from the expat tax return you originally filed for the corresponding tax year.

If you can’t find your original tax return or you’re missing valuable attachments, you may be able to get a complete copy of your US expat tax return from your tax preparer who helped you prepare your return. You will also be able to contact the IRS and request the information you seek in the format most conducive to your needs. So, in which formats are copies of your previous years’ returns available?

Obtaining the Transcript

Quite often, a US expat doesn’t need too much more than a transcript to get the answers he/she may need. The benefits of getting a transcript are: They are free to obtain and they include every significant piece of information on your original tax return. You can only request transcripts for up to 3 previous years. Also, if you had made any changes to your tax return since it was filed those changes would not be indicated on the transcripts; only the details of the tax return as it was originally filed would be listed.

You will be able to view transcripts with any changes you’ve made since filing your original turn if you ask the IRS for a tax account transcript. This will include your filing status, AGI (Adjusted Gross Income), and any other changes you made to your US expat tax return since you originally filed it.

You can request a transcript more easily than ever by visiting the IRS website and choosing the type of transcript you need online. You also have the options of calling the IRS directly or ordering your transcript(s) by fax or email. If you prefer to order a transcript by fax or email you may fill out Form 4506T-EZ to request an individual tax return transcript on returns filed with Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. Documents for orders placed on the phone should arrive within 5-10 calendar days and orders sent via fax or email take an average of 30 calendar days to arrive.

Copy of the US Expat Tax Return

There are some cases in which transcripts do not contain all the information you may need. If this is the case, you will be able to order an actual hard copy of your US expat tax return. Copies of original tax returns are available for 6 years and the cost is $57 for each year requested. To order copies of previous years’ tax returns, you must fill out Form 4506 and mail to an IRS Service Center and plan on waiting at least around 2 months to have your request received, processed, and returned back to you.

Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX