Learn which situations may require an IRS tax transcript, along with how to request your tax transcript, and how to interpret it when it arrives.
Digging up the past
Do you need information from a tax return you filed three years ago because you're making a major purchase and the lender wants to see your tax history? Maybe you need to provide your adjusted gross income (AGI) from the past three years to demonstrate your financial picture but can't find your tax return paperwork.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you don't need to panic. You can simply find this information by downloading your IRS tax transcript online or requesting a copy in the mail. This form provides most of the information you submit on your Form 1040, and you can access it for free.
What is an IRS tax transcript?
An IRS tax transcript contains a summary of your tax return items but only partially displays your personal information to protect your privacy. Depending on the type of transcript you request, it can present your full financial and tax-related information. Items such as your taxable income will be broken down by items as reflected on Form W-2.
If you need a tax transcript, you can request one any time for free through the IRS Get Transcript website.
What does an IRS transcript show?
There are five types of tax transcripts you can request from the IRS:
- Tax Return Transcript: This provides most of the line items found on your original tax return, including your AGI. You can request this transcript for the current tax year and the previous three years.
- Tax Account Transcript: This abbreviated tax transcript shows basic data like type of return filed, marital status, AGI, taxable income, and how you paid. You can request this transcript for the current year and up to 10 prior years (online or with Form 4506-T), or up to three years if you're requesting by mail or phone.
- Record of Account Transcript: This is the most comprehensive tax transcript you can request, which combines information provided in your tax return and tax account transcripts. You can only request this transcript for the current year and up to the previous three.
- Wages and Income Transcript: This transcript only reports information provided on your W-2, Form 1099s, Form 1098, and IRA contribution information. You can request it for the current tax year and up to the previous 10 years.
- Verification of Non-Filing Letter: This only shows proof that the IRS hasn't received a Form 1040 from you for a particular year. You can request one for the current tax year and up to three previous years.
Why might you need a transcript?
If you keep meticulous records and have all of your tax information neatly organized, you might not ever need a tax transcript. You'll have your full 1040 to pull exactly what you need.
In the event you may have misplaced your documentation or it isn't complete, you may need to pull your transcript to provide an official record of your tax information.
One common instance where you might need a tax transcript is when you apply for a mortgage and the lender wants to see a record of your tax history. Mortgage lenders commonly require at least two years of tax information to substantiate your income and typically want to receive it directly from the IRS rather than from the borrower.
You may also need a tax transcript when you apply for financial aid from a college or university through FAFSA. As another common example, you might need to have your tax transcript when you apply for federal health care programs like Medicaid.
How can you get your tax transcript?
There are two main ways get your tax transcript from the IRS:
- Request your tax transcript online. This is the fastest way to request your transcript.
- Go to the Get Transcript
- Scroll down to the "Request Online" section and click the "Get Transcript Online" button.
- Register for the service and provide identifying information, including your social security number (SSN), date of birth and filing status. You'll need access to your email account, and you'll also need to supply account information from a financial product or service like a credit card, mortgage or home equity loan.
- Request an IRS transcript by mail. Transcripts usually arrive in five to 10 calendar days.
- Visit the same Get Transcript site used for requesting your transcript online. Click "Get Transcript by Mail" under the "Request by Mail" section.
- You'll need your SSN or Individual Tax ID Number (ITIN), birth date, street address, and postal code.
- Transcripts will arrive at the address the IRS has on file for you so if you have moved you will need to change your address with the IRS before requesting the transcript.
What if you need your actual tax return?
If your tax transcript won't meet your needs, you can still access your tax return in other ways. If you used TurboTax Online to prepare your taxes, you can access your tax return by signing in to your TurboTax account and navigating to the "Your tax returns & documents" section.
If you prepared your taxes in another way, you need to complete IRS Form 4506 and mail it to the IRS along with a $43 fee for sending you a copy of your tax return (unless you live in a federally declared disaster area). These requests can take up to 75 days to process. So, you'll want to make sure a tax transcript won't cut it before starting this process.
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