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Do You Need a Copy of a Past Tax Return?

Do You Need a Copy of a Past Tax Return?

Tax Return Copies & Transcripts

When applying for a loan or other financial assistance, you will likely be asked to provide copies of your tax returns from previous years. If you have lost or misplaced your copies of your tax returns and do not have them saved in digital format, you may need to obtain copies from the IRS.

Here are some tips and information about requesting copies and transcripts of prior year tax returns:

Tax Return Copy vs. Transcript

There are 2 ways to obtain your tax return information from the IRS – you can request a transcript of your tax return, or you can request a copy. While many taxpayers will request a copy of their past tax return, oftentimes a transcript will provide the necessary information much faster.

A transcript is basically a computer-created record of your tax return. It includes most information from the line-items of your return (e.g., adjusted gross income, amount due, etc.) as well as any accompanying forms and schedules. If changes were made to your tax return after it was filed, the transcript will not show those changes. Transcripts are generally available for the past 3 years and requests may take up to 10 days to be processed.

A copy refers to an exact copy of the tax return you filed, which includes the processed return with all its attachments (including Form W-2). A tax return copy can be certified by the IRS to prove its authenticity. Copies can generally be requested for returns filed in the past 6 years. Keep in mind that it may take up to 75 days for the IRS to process your request for a copy.

Typically, a tax transcript will provide all the information you need for most financial transactions. Banks and other financial institutions will usually accept a transcript in lieu of a copy of your actual tax return. However, in certain legal proceedings (e.g., adoption of a child), a certified copy of your tax return may be required. Even if you already have a “regular” copy of your return, you may need to obtain a certified copy from the IRS.

RELATED: Contact Information for the IRS

How to Request a Prior Year Tax Return

To request a copy of your past tax return or a tax transcript, you can contact the IRS via telephone or mail. Most tax transcripts are provided free of charge, while tax return copies will cost you $50 per return.

Transcript of Tax Return

You can obtain a transcript by filing Form 4506-T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return) or Form 4506T-EZ (Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript). Note that Form 4506T-EZ can only be used to request Form 1040 series transcripts – it’s designed for taxpayers who are trying to obtain, modify, or refinance a home mortgage.

To request a transcript by telephone, call the IRS at 1-800-908-9946 and follow the prompts in the recorded message.

The IRS also provides a “Get Transcript” tool on its website.

Copy of Tax Return

You can obtain an exact copy by filing Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return). If you need the copy to be certified by the IRS, check the box on Line 6 of Form 4506.

Remember to include the $50 fee for each tax return you request. Also note that you must file a separate Form 4506 for each type of tax return requested.


It is always a good idea to keep copies of your past tax returns for at least 3 years or longer. Some tax preparation services will store your tax return for several years on your behalf, or you can save it in digital format on your personal computer. Maintaining your financial records will be helpful in the future if you buy a home or need to prove your income for other reasons.

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