Copy of Past Year Tax Return

Elizabeth Rosen
by Elizabeth Rosen, Contributor

There are many reasons why you may need to obtain a copy of a past tax return. Perhaps you simply lost your copy or there is a pressing financial transaction on the line. Overall, it is important to understand how to request a copy of a tax return so you can access that information in a timely manner.

Depending on what type of information you need from your past tax return, you may choose to request an exact copy or a more basic transcript. You can request an exact copy of a past tax return from the IRS dating back 6 years. However, transcripts of tax returns are only available for the past 3 years.

You may need a copy of your tax return if you lost tax documents for a particular year. In this case, you should get in touch with the IRS to request the past returns that you need. This can be done by submitting Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return) or Form 4506-T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return).

Are you applying for a student loan or a mortgage loan? If so, the lender will request your financial information, which includes past tax information. While every lender is different, most will require a copy of your most recent tax return. In some cases (e.g., if you are applying for a mortgage loan) tax returns for the past 2-3 years may be required. While a tax return transcript may be enough for some lenders to make an informed decision, you should always check to make sure.

You may also need a copy of a past tax return if you want to modify or refinance your mortgage. The IRS created Form 4506T-EZ (Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript) for taxpayers who filed Form 1040 and who want to obtain, modify, or refinance a mortgage loan. You can have copies of tax returns mailed directly to you or the IRS can send them to a third party for you.

There are many reasons why you may need to get a copy of a past tax return. Luckily, requesting a past return (whether an exact copy or a transcript) is simple enough for any taxpayer to do.


How to Get an Exact Copy of a Past Tax Return

Do you need a copy of your past tax return? If so, you should first decide if you need an exact copy of your return or just a simple transcript. Many taxpayers are unaware that there are differences between exact copies and transcripts. Along with this, the process of getting an exact copy of a past tax return is much different than requesting a transcript.

To obtain an exact copy of your past tax return, follow these 3 basic steps:

1. To receive an exact copy of a past tax return, you must use IRS Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return). This is an easy, 1-page form that should only take you a few minutes to complete. Most of what you are asked to provide is basic identifying information.

2. You must send a check or money order with Form 4506, made payable to the “United States Treasury.” It costs $57 for each past tax return copy that is requested. (If the IRS cannot find your tax return, they will refund that fee.)

3. Mail Form 4506, along with payment for each tax return copy, to the address provided. The address you must use is based on your state ― mailing addresses can be found on Page 2 (General Instructions) of Form 4506.

Note that if your filing status is “married filing jointly,” either spouse can request an exact copy of a past tax return. In that situation, only one signature will be needed.

Here are a few FAQ’s regarding copies of past tax returns:

Q: How far back can I request a copy of a past tax return?
A: Generally speaking, you can obtain an exact copy of your tax return for the current year, and as far back as six years.

Q: How long will it take to get my past tax return copy?
A: Those who are in a hurry should complete and submit IRS Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return) as soon as possible. In some cases, it can take up to 2 months for the IRS to process your request.

Q: Why do they charge a fee for each past tax return?
A: While some people believe this service should be free, the IRS does charge a processing fee of $57 per past tax return. If you request a copy of your tax return, you will also receive any related attachments ― this includes your W-2s and any Form 1099s. So although there is a fee, the IRS does provide you with substantial documentation.


How to Get a Transcript of a Past Tax Return

It may make more sense to get a transcript of a past tax return rather than an exact copy. If you need access to your personal tax information, obtaining a copy of a past tax return costs $57 per return. Requesting a transcript, however, is simpler and free of charge.

Let’s take a look at the two different types of tax transcripts:

Tax Return Transcript
This document will show most of the original information from your past tax return, but it is not an exact copy. Keep in mind that a Tax Return Transcript will not show any changes that may have been made after submitting the original tax return ― for example, if you filed Form 1040X (Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return). This type of transcript is typically used by people who are applying for a loan, such as a school loan or a car loan.

Tax Account Transcript
This type of document shows basic information, such as your filing status and adjusted gross income (AGI) from a past tax return. Similar to above, this transcript is not an exact copy. However, a Tax Account Transcript will include any adjustments that were made after the original return was filed.

To get a transcript of a past tax return, follow these basic steps:

1. Determine what kind of information you’re looking for ― do you need an exact copy of your past tax return, or just basic information from it (i.e., a transcript)?

2. Decide how you would like to obtain your transcript ― transcripts of past tax returns may be requested over the phone by calling 1(800)829-1040 or by completing and submitting IRS Form 4506T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return).

3. Wait ― it will take approximately 2 weeks for the IRS to process a Tax Return Transcript request. On the other hand, a request for a Tax Account Transcript may take up to 30 days to process. (Compare that to requesting an exact copy of a past tax return, which can take up to 2 months for the IRS to carry out.)

Here are a few FAQ’s regarding transcripts of past tax returns:

Q: How far back can I request a transcript for a past tax return?
A: Transcripts for past tax returns are available for the most recent tax year, as well as the three previous years. (Compare that to exact copies of tax returns, which may be retrieved up to six years back.)

Q: How much does it cost to get a transcript of a past tax return?
A: Unlike an exact copy, which costs $57 per tax return, the IRS does not charge a fee for getting transcripts. That being said, many people find that transcripts don’t provide enough information, and they end up requesting an exact copy and paying the fee anyway.

If you need to get a transcript of a past tax return, it will not take you very long to move through the process. Once you are sure that you want a transcript (and not an exact copy of a past tax return) you can contact the IRS via phone or mail. From there, it should take no more than 30 days to receive the information you requested. To ensure a timely delivery, it is essential that you request the proper type of transcript and complete Form 4506T in legible handwriting.

With the above advice in mind, you should be able to request and receive a transcript of a past tax return without any problems. If you determine that you need an exact copy instead, you may file IRS Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return).