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 an old return that you lost or didn't save. The IRS will also 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. It now "masks" or blocks 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.
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, 1098, and IRA contribution information.
- Verification of Non-Filing Letter: This would be appropriate if you 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 cell phone with an account in your name
The IRS has updated its process to create an online account to include facial recognition as well. To conduct the facial recognition process, taxpayers must appear on a video camera before an IRS representative, provide their name, and identification to conduct the facial recognition process.
You must tell the IRS why you want the transcript, but that is mostly to guide you to the type of transcript you need.
You can get any of the five transcripts online. You can 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 cell phone 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
If you don't have a cell phone, a loan in your name, or any of the other information required for online access, you can request a transcript by regular mail. 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 your 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.
The IRS no longer faxes transcripts to taxpayers.
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.
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 lift that temporarily so that the IRS can verify your identity. You can put the freeze 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 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 healthcare programs.
Maybe you've realized that your recordkeeping 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.
- The IRS offers five types of tax transcripts, free of charge, to cover the many reasons you may need to access your tax return information.
- The easiest way to get your transcript is to access it online through the IRS "Get Transcript" website.
- Requesting a transcript by mail is possible as well, but it can take five to 10 days to arrive.
- The tax transcript request process can be slowed or halted if you owe money to the IRS or if you have a credit freeze in effect.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I request a tax transcript for someone else?
Only spouses who filed jointly can get tax transcripts for one another. Otherwise tax transcripts are limited to the taxpayer.
When will a transcript be ready for this year's return?
Once you file your taxes it takes some time for the IRS to process them, and to prepare transcripts. If you filed electronically this can take anywhere from two to four weeks, and if you filed by mail it can take up to six weeks.
Will a tax transcript show how much I owe the IRS?
Yes, tax transcripts vary in the type of information they compile, but generally any debts or refunds will be displayed prominently.