How to Get an Exact Copy of a Past Tax Return

Elizabeth Rosen
by Elizabeth Rosen, Contributor

 

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.

If you had your Federal income tax return completed by a professional tax preparer, they should be able to provide you with a copy of your return. Otherwise, you will need to get in touch with the IRS to request the tax documents that you need.

Generally speaking, you can obtain an exact copy of your tax return for the current year, and as far back as 6 years. If you misplaced a tax return that is older than 6 years, you may have to search for it on your own because the IRS will not be able to help.

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

Step 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.

Step 2. You must send a check or money order with Form 4506, made payable to the “United States Treasury.” It costs $50 for each past tax return copy that is requested. (If the IRS cannot find your tax return, they will refund that fee.)

Step 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.

You are only allowed one copy per request form, so for each additional copy of a tax return that you want, you must submit a separate Form 4506. Additionally, it’s important to 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: Typically, you can request copies of Tax Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ for up to 6 years ago (before they’re destroyed by law). Copies of other types of tax forms may be available for longer than 6 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. It may take up to 75 days 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 $50 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 while there is a fee to obtain a copy of your past tax return, the IRS does provide you with substantial documentation. Note that there is no fee for requesting a transcript of a past tax return. Additionally, taxpayers affected by “Federally declared disasters” may be able to obtain exact copies of their tax returns free of charge — affected taxpayers often need their past tax returns to file for special benefits related to the disaster.