Prior Tax Records

There are a number of companies that can provide you with prior year tax documents. For $30 or so, they can deliver your documents via email within half an hour. You can find several of these companies with a simple Internet search. Chances are your need is not so immediate. If if you can wait ten to fifteen days for delivery via US mail, you can save yourself money and get a free “tax return transcript” from the IRS.

There are a number of reasons why you might need a copy of your tax records: applications a student loan or a mortgage, income verification for renting an apartment, information for preparing your current tax returns. Depending on your requirements, there are three different types of tax return information you can get from the IRS: a tax account transcript, a tax return transcript, or a photocopy of your actual tax returns. Each of these three options have distinct differences.


The tax account transcript shows the activity that happened with your return. It lists such things as filing dates, notices issues, refunds issued, amendment filing dates and examination dates. This type of transcript does list some return information such as filing status (Single, Married Filing Jointly, etc), Adjusted Gross Income, Taxable Income and tax paid. If you needed your past return to help with preparing this years taxes, this is not the transcript you should get.

If you are looking for information such as a capital loss carryover or how large a charitable contribution you had made, you should request a tax return transcript. The tax return transcript will show most line items contained on the return as it was originally filed. This transcript should have all the information you need to prepare amended returns or prepare current and future returns.

If a bank or other institution is requesting past tax documentation, be sure they will accept transcripts instead of copies. Most institutions will accept transcripts, but it is always safer to verify that before you order the transcripts.

Transcripts can be ordered by calling the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Follow the prompts on the automated telephone system to make your request. Be sure you select the right type of transcript as the names are similar. You should receive your transcripts in the mail in ten to fifteen days. Transcripts are generally available all the way back to 1962. You can request multiple years during your one phone call, and transcripts are provided free of charge.


If transcripts are not acceptable for some reason, you can request photocopies of your actual returns. Unfortunately, this route will be much tougher. First, you will have to submit a form. The IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, is used to request a photocopy of your tax returns. Each copy will cost you $57 per return unless you can prove your returns were lost due to a federally declared disaster. It takes up to 60 days to get your copies, and generally, only copies from the past six years are available.

Before going down the path of requesting photocopies, you may want to consider if there are other sources you can go to. If you use an accountant, you should be able to get copies from there. Perhaps you applied for a loan or a background check in the past, that that organization may have a copy of your returns.


It is not typical that you would need a copy of your State filings. If you do, the best approach is to start with your state’s Department of Revenue or Department of Taxation website. Some states, such as North Carolina, will provide you copies free of change. Other states, such as New York and New Jersey, will charge you a fee for this service.