You probably know you’re supposed to keep copies of your filed tax returns for a period of years, but life happens. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides tax transcripts if you need to lay your hands on an old return that you lost or didn’t save. The IRS is also glad to provide you with other forms and information about your tax history, free of charge.
Keep reading to learn more about the documents the IRS can provide you with, and how to get them.
What a Tax Transcript Includes
Your transcript will include all the same information that appears on your tax return, although it’s not laid out in the same format. You’ll see your filing status, income, and any deductions and credits you claimed. However, your personal information won’t appear on the transcript—at least not in its entirety.
The IRS has been actively taking steps to combat fraud and identity theft, and it now “masks” or blacks out portions of information on your transcript that thieves might like to know, such as the first five digits of your Social Security number and your complete telephone and account numbers. All of your tax financial information is displayed in full, however.
As of January 2019, your accountant or any other individual or entity who has a right—and your permission—to access your transcript must now enter a “customer file number” on line 5 of IRS Form 4506-T, the official Request for Transcript of Tax Return. Generally, the third party can assign the number. For example, a potential lender that wants a copy of your transcript might assign it with your loan number. What third parties can’t use is your Social Security number. The IRS will enter the new number into its transcript database when it receives a Form 4506-T.
Types of IRS Transcripts Available
The IRS offers five different transcripts.
- Tax Return Transcript: This is the most common form. It shows most—but not all—line-by-line information from your return, although only from your original return. It won’t report information from an amended return if you filed one.
- Tax Account Transcript: This transcript is more comprehensive. It includes your adjusted gross income (AGI); the totality of your income in various taxable forms; and when, how, and how much you’ve made in the way of payments.
- Record of Account Transcript: Choose this one if you want the combined information from the two transcripts listed above.
- Wages and Income Transcript: This one shows information regarding your income, including W-2, 1099, and IRA contribution information.
- Verification of Non-Filing Letter: This would be appropriate if you simply have to prove that you didn’t have to file a tax return in a given year because you fell below the income requirements.
Online IRS Transcript Access
The easiest way to get your transcript is to access it online through the IRS “Get Transcript” website page. You’ll have to register first, and to do that you’ll need:
- Your Social Security number
- Your date of birth
- The filing status you used on your most recent tax return
- The mailing address you used on your most recent tax return
- An email account and the address
- An account number for a credit card, mortgage, auto loan, or personal loan that is in your name
- A cellphone with an account in your name
You must also tell the IRS why you want the transcript, but that is mostly just to guide you to the type of transcript you need.
You can get any of the five transcripts online. You can simply view them on your computer or tablet, or print them out or download them; there’s no waiting period for delivery. The IRS will confirm your identity first, however, by both emailing and texting a verification code to the cellphone and email account information you provided.
The text and email will only provide a verification code. It won’t ask you to provide any further information by email or text. Any request for information “from the IRS” received via text or email is almost certainly a scam, whether it comes to you immediately or weeks later. You can report phishing scams on the IRS website.
Other IRS Transcript Access Options
You’re not out of luck if you don’t have a cellphone or a loan in your name, or if you lack any of the other information required for online access. You’ll just have to take the snail-mail approach. This requires only your Social Security number, the mailing address on your most recent return, and your date of birth. Unfortunately, you can only get tax return and tax account transcripts this way, and only for the current tax year and the three years before that.
The IRS indicates that it will probably take five to ten calendar days for the transcripts to arrive in your mailbox. You can still make the request online, but you won’t have access to your information until the paper copy is delivered to you. You can also submit the request by calling 800-908-9946.
You’ll have to take an additional step if you no longer live at the address cited on your last tax return, even if you’ve arranged for USPS to forward your mail. The post office can’t do that with correspondence from the IRS, so you’ll have to complete and submit Form 8822 with your change of address before you submit Form 4506-T. The bad news is that it takes the IRS up to six weeks to process a taxpayer’s change of address.
Other Rules and Quirks to the Request Process
There are some rules and quirks that could affect your transcription request process.
How you filed your return and whether you owe unpaid taxes on that return can affect how quickly you can get transcripts for the current year. Your current-year transcripts most likely will not become available for two to four weeks after you e-file a return, and up to six weeks if you mail in a paper return. You won’t be able to access your transcript if you owe taxes, until you pay the balance due or otherwise arrange to pay it through a finalized agreement with the IRS.
The IRS no longer faxes transcripts to taxpayers.
Finally, if you’ve placed a credit freeze with Experian because you are a victim of (or think you're at risk for) identity theft, you may have to temporarily lift that so the IRS can verify your identity; you can put the freeze right back in place after this is accomplished.
Why You Might Need an IRS Transcript
You might need your transcripts for any number of reasons. Maybe you just need your AGI, or you want to track and confirm payments you’ve made to the IRS. Most taxpayers access their transcripts because they must verify their income information for some reason—such as loan and student aid applications. You might also need transcripts to apply for housing assistance or federal health care programs.
Maybe you’ve just realized that your record-keeping habits aren’t all that they should be, and you have no record of your relationship with the IRS. In any case, getting transcripts isn’t usually a prohibitive process for most taxpayers.