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How to Obtain Copies and Transcripts of Past Tax Returns from the IRS

There are quite a few reasons why someone might need access to a previous year’s tax return. And unless you are highly organized, you might not be able to retrieve a copy from your personal filing cabinet. Never fear, though, because in cases involving mortgages, student loans and citizenship, one is usually only required to provide the basic information that can be found on a tax return transcript.

Transcripts - Free

Transcripts of tax returns are available for three years prior to date, and they include the majority of the line items from your original tax return. If you are asked to provide an “exact copy,” a transcript will not suffice. If you are simply in need of the information from your original return, however, a transcript is an easy and free solution.

If changes were made to your return (by you or the IRS) after it was filed, neither an exact copy or a transcript will contain the information you need. In this case, you should request not a tax return transcript but a transcript of your tax account.

You can request either a tax return or a tax account transcript via the IRS (800-829-1040). The automated message will guide you through the process. Or, you can request your transcript by filing out and mailing this IRS form. Through either method, you can expect to receive your transcript anywhere from ten to thirty days from the time the IRS receives your information.

Exact Copies - $57 Per Year

If you are required to obtain an exact copy, or if you are past the three year margin allowed for transcripts, the IRS allows you to obtain exact copies of your past six years’ returns for a fee of $57.00 per year. You may request and obtain exact copies of your completed returns (with attachments) by filing out and mailing this form. Your payment will be addressed to the United States Treasury. It is wise to allow up to sixty days to receive exact copies of your returns.

It might be important to keep in mind that if a return has been jointly filed, either spouse may request transcripts or exact copies without the other spouse’s signature (even after divorce).