BidVertiser ClickADu HilltopAds

As tax season approaches, you may be in need of past returns to do this year's taxes. Here is a practical guide on how to do just that. 

Taxpayers who didn’t save a copy of their prior year’s tax return have a few options to get the information. Individuals should generally keep copies of their tax returns and any documents for at least three years after they file.

If a taxpayer doesn’t have this information here’s how they can get it:

First of all, always ask the software provider or tax preparer.

Order a Tax Transcript

If a taxpayer can't get a copy of a prior year return, then they may order a tax transcript from the IRS. These are free and available for the most current tax year after the IRS has processed the return. 

To protect taxpayers' identities, this document partially hides personally identifiable information such as names, addresses and Social Security numbers. All financial entries, including the filer's adjusted gross income, are fully visible.

People can get them for the past three years, and they need to allow time for delivery.

Here are the three ways to get transcripts:

  • Online. People can use Get On-Line Transcript to view, print or download a copy of all transcript types. Taxpayers must verify their identity using the Secure Assess process. Taxpayers who are unable to register or prefer not to use Get Transcript Online may use By Mail to order a tax return or account transcript type. Taxpayers should allow five to 10 calendar days for delivery. 
  • By phone. Taxpayers can call 800-908-9946 to request a transcript by phone. Transcripts requested by phone will be mailed to the taxpayer. 
  • By mail. Taxpayers can complete and send either Form 4506-T or Form 4506-T-EZ to the IRS to get one by mail.  
  • They use Form 4506-T to request other tax records: tax account transcript, record of account, wage and income and verification of non-filing.

Request a copy of a tax return from the IRS

Prior year tax returns are available from the IRS for a fee.

Taxpayers can request a copy of a tax return by completing and mailing Form 4506 to the IRS address listed on the form. There's a $43 fee for each copy and these are available for the current tax year and up to seven years prior.

My key tip is this: As a matter of best practices, keep your tax return secured in the cloud, so you will never have to worry again and ask yourself, “Where is last year's tax return?”  Because, you know, just when you need it, that's when you won't find it.

Michael Sullivan is a former IRS Agent & Teaching Instructor, once an ABC news correspondent in Washington, now affiliated with R3 Accounting, Mr. Sullivan has also contributed to the Bloomberg News and Wall Street Journal.