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How do I get copies of my tax returns and transcripts?

The IRS recommends that you keep a copy of tax returns for at least three years. (But it is advisable to save them much longer.) Doing this can help you prepare future tax returns or even assist with amending a prior year’s return. If you are unable to locate copies of previous year tax returns, check with your software provider or tax preparer first.

How to get copies of returns & transcripts

  • Call 800-908-9946 to order a tax return transcripts and tax account transcripts that will be sent to you by mail.

  • Complete and send either Form 4506 (for returns), 4506-T (for transcripts) or 4506T-EZ to the IRS.

Note that transcripts are free; but there is a charge for paper copies of returns.

Tax returns


If you need an actual copy of a tax return, you may be able to get one for the current tax year and as far back as six years. Note that there is no paper copy if you filed electronically. You should mail the request to the appropriate IRS office listed on the form.

Plan ahead. Delivery times for phone orders typically take five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request. The IRS says to allow 30 days to receive a transcript ordered by mail and 75 days for copies of your tax return.


Even though you may have a copy of your tax return, you also may need a transcript. They are often used to validate income and tax filing status for mortgage applications, student loans, social services, and small business loan applications and for responding to an IRS notice, filing an amended return, or obtaining a lien release. Transcripts can also be useful when preparing and filing tax returns by verifying estimated tax payments, Advance Child Tax Credits, Economic Income Payments/stimulus payments, and/or an overpayment from a prior year return.

There are 3 kinds of transcripts.

  • A tax return transcript shows most line items from the tax return. This includes marital status, the type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income. It also includes items from any related forms and schedules filed. It doesn’t reflect any changes the taxpayer or the IRS may have made to the original return when an amended return is filed or when the IRS makes error corrections or audits. Note: Tax return transcripts are available online for only 3 years.

  • An account transcript is an accounting ledger for a specific year showing transactions that have taken place. In addition to the amount of tax and payments, the account transcript shows charges for penalties and interest, additional charges from audits and certain other events such as when an offer in compromise or bankruptcy is filed, there is a request for an installment agreement or innocent spouse relief. This report will be helpful when preparing a current tax return and you need a list of all estimated tax payments you  have made.

  • A wage & income transcript lists all reports of income and deductions sent the IRS third parties such as by employers (W-2), customers (1099-NEC), banks (1099-INT & 1099-DIV), brokerage firms (1099-B), retirement plans (1099-R) and lenders (1098). This report will be important to file a back tax return or an amended return. Note: A Wage and Income transcript provides federal withholding amounts, but it does not reflect state tax withholdings, which may limit its use when preparing state income tax returns.

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