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How Do I Get a Copy of My Tax Return for a Prior Year?

written by: Bruce Tintelnot•edited by: Doreen Martel•updated: 10/9/2011

Tax return information from prior years can be a requirement for such things as mortgage loans, student loans, and federal programs. Wondering how you get a copy of your old tax return? This article explains where to look and what to do.

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    Structured as the tax laws and tax forms are for income taxes, one would think that they are "set in stone" once they have been filed, and won't have to be looked at again. But instances do arise when taxpayers find themselves in need of information from old tax returns or even having to change information on one or more of them. Let's face it, sometimes records stuffed into old shoe boxes or filing cabinets do get lost. If this has happened to you and you're wondering how you get a copy of your tax return, don't despair! The process isn't that difficult.

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    IRS Statute of Limitations

    The statute of limitations for most IRS audits is three years although they can go back as far six. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recommends that individual taxpayers should keep tax records including copies of old tax returns for a period of three years. The 200px-IRS svg reasons for needing to obtain a copy of a prior year's tax return or certain tax information can be quite varied. If a taxpayer is applying for some kind of credit loan or assistance program the provider could ask for a tax return from the previous year or a number of years. Some of these would be:

    • mortgages
    • credit cards
    • student loans
    • government assistance programs

    Amending a previous years tax return using Form 1040X would require a copy of the tax return and accompanying forms and schedules for the year in question and might also affect other years as well. Reasons for this situation could be the discovery of errors in a return for such items as:

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    Obtaining Information From a Prior Year

    It is possible to obtain tax information from the current year or a previous one going as far back as the past three years using one of three forms. These are:

    A tax return transcript consists of most the line items from the original tax return in what could best be described as a plain text format. This includes all the accompanying forms and schedules for it. Quite often this satisfies the requirements of most financial institutions or government agencies for prior years tax return information.

    Map of USA highlighting states with no income tax on wages A tax account transcript just shows basic data for a previous tax year, such as the type of return filed, marital status, adjusted gross income or taxable income and any adjustments made after the original tax return was filed. Both transcripts are free and can be ordered for the current year and the past three years.

    If a transcript won't do and you need an actual copy of one or more prior year's tax returns form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, affords you this. Income tax returns for the past six years can be ordered and the charge for tax year 2010 is $57.00.

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    Ordering Trancscripts From the IRS

    There are three ways to order tax return transcripts or copies. They can be ordered online, through the mail, or by telephone.

    Online -

    1. Go to the IRS web site at

    2. On the homepage click your mouse on the Online Services selection. From the Online Services page click on Order a Tax Return or Account Transcript.

    3. The Order a Transcript page indicating that transcripts sent to addresses other than your own must send a form 4506-T through the mail or call 1-800-829-1040.

    Using the mail - Sending transcript requests through the mail using forms 4506-T or 4506-T-EZ are usually received within about 30 days. It'll take about 60 days to receive actual copies of a tax return using Form 4506. Mailing addresses for transcripts and telephone numbers are on the instructions for each form.

    Telephone - The IRS has a self-service line at 1-800-908-9946 for ordering transcripts or the previously mentioned number, 1-800-829-1040 can also be used.

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    Finding the Forms

    The actual forms with instructions can be found:

    Online - go to and click on Forms and Publications selection in the sidebar on the left of the page and then on All Tax Products. All three forms, 4506, 4506-T, and 4506-T-EZ (English and Spanish versions) are there. They are interactive and printable.

    Telephone - The Forms and Publications Order Line, 800-829-3676.

    Mail - On the Forms and Publications page at clicking on the Forms and publications by U.S. mail selection will display a full page with instructions and a box for ordering any form by mail. Forms can also be ordered through the mail by using the order forms in the Form 1040, Instructions 2010 or in Publication 17, Tax Guide 2010.

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    There basically three choices to get a copy of a tax return or for obtaining transcripts. Transcripts can be obtained using Form 4506-T or the 4506-T-EZ and copies of original tax returns would require a Form 4506. These forms can be obtained online at, by mail, or by telephone. Each one of these choices are easy to access and use so no one should have to keep groping around wondering how do I get a copy of my tax return?