How to Access My Old Income Tax Returns

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How to Access My Old Income Tax Returns
Tax returns are filed on forms such as Form 1040 (tax forms image by Chad McDermott from Fotolia.com)

When you file your tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the agency creates and maintains a transcript of the activity. A transcript will show your return as it was originally filed, detailing most line items, including forms and schedules. After the IRS receives your return an accounting record is kept of any subsequent changes, and it shows basic data such as marital status, type of return, and income. Although the tax transcript is free of charge, the IRS still asks that you submit an order using "Form 4506-T," which is a "Request for Transcript of Tax Return."

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Internet
  • Printer
  • Pen
  • Envelope and postage
  • Fax machine (optional)
  • Telephone (optional)

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Download the form. Visit the "IRS.gov" website to download "Form 4506-T" to your computer. You may also link directly to the form using the link in "Reference" labelled as "IRS: Request for Transcript of Tax Return, Form 4506-T (PDF)." The form will be presented to you in PDF format. You may use any electronic document sharing program compatible with the PDF format, such as Adobe Reader.

  2. 2

    Skim the instructions. Before actually completing the form, it may be helpful to briefly read the form in its entirety from beginning to end. Tax situations vary greatly by both individuals and businesses, and you may have circumstances which require slight variation from the average. For example, there are extra instructions for those spouses who may have filed jointly, and may have even had a name change. For businesses, the form explains which entities may request and sign the form.

  3. 3

    Complete the form. You may be able to literally fill in the necessary blanks on the form using your computer's PDF program. For example, Adobe Reader, may allow you to position your cursor in the field where you can type in your personally identifiable information (name, address, and Social Security number) and other pertinent order information (third-party address, tax form, transcript type, and tax years). This might help your form to be more legible than handwriting, making it easier for the IRS to read and expedite your request. After typing in all necessary order information, you will then want to print out the form and sign it. You may be able to save the completed form to your computer as well.

    If your PDF program does not permit typing directly into the document, then simply go ahead and print out the form and fill it in with a pen by hand.

  4. 4

    Return the form. You may submit your form back to the IRS by postal mail or by fax. The address or fax number will vary based on your state. Refer to the "Instructions" section of the form for that information.

    The time needed to process your request for tax return information can take anywhere from 10 to 45 days. For additional questions on the status of your request, you may be able to follow up with an IRS agent by calling 800-829-1040.

Tips and warnings

  • If you are unable to pull up the PDF file of Form 4506-T, you may try your transcript request by phone, by calling 800-829-1040 and using the automated self-help system. Follow the prompts which will say "questions about your tax account" to order a tax return transcript.
  • If you need an actual copy of a past tax return, the process will take longer, up to 60 days, and there will be a fee of £37 per tax year requested (as of March 2010). The form necessary for this detailed of a return is called "Request for Copy of Tax Form, Form 4506" and you may link to the form below in "Resource."
  • There are third-party websites which may be able to gain faster access to your past tax returns and deliver the transcripts via the web or fax. The IRS urges tax filers to use caution when using tax professionals to assist with tax matters. Before you enlist any third-party service or individual, assess his qualifications. For example, a firm or individual holding a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation may be a good indicator of his bona fides.

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