What are tax return transcripts?

How to request a summary of your tax return from the IRS

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You likely keep a copy of your tax return in a file for safekeeping. But if you don’t, or if your saved tax information cannot be accessed, you can request a copy of your tax records from the IRS. This is true for tax transcripts and returns filed by both consumers and businesses.

Here’s what’s included in a tax return transcript and how to get this information from the IRS.

Key insights

  • A tax return transcript includes highlights from your tax return, including your annual gross income, how much you paid, and deductions and credits you used, along with any forms and schedules.
  • You can request a tax transcript from the IRS for free, and you can access these documents online, over the phone or through the mail.
  • It's possible to get a copy of your federal tax return, but each return costs $43 and can take up to 75 days to process.

Types of tax return transcripts

Logan Allec, the founder of Choice Tax Relief, said that a tax return transcript is a "document produced by the IRS that indicates the dollar amounts reported on most lines of a taxpayer's tax return for a given year."

The part about "most lines" is important here, since tax return transcripts don't include every single detail listed in a tax return. Instead, transcripts list the most important highlights, such as amounts paid in, your adjusted gross income (AGI) from previous years and credits and deductions applied.

There are also multiple types of tax return transcripts available for taxpayers.

Tax return transcript

A tax return transcript lists the majority of items from your original Form 1040-series tax return as filed, along with applicable forms and schedules. However, it doesn't show any changes you made if you amended your tax return after your original filing date.

According to the IRS, you can request a tax return transcript for the current year and the previous three tax years.

Tax account transcript

A tax account transcript includes basic information on how you filed your taxes and your taxable income, and it includes changes you made after you filed your original tax return in a given year.

This transcript can be requested for the current year and up to nine prior tax years, depending on the method you use for your request.

Record of account transcript

This transcript includes the tax return transcript and tax account transcript information all in one document and is available for the current year and the previous three years.

Wage and income transcript

The wage and income transcript shows data from returns such as Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 and 5498. However, it is limited to 85 total documents.

This transcript is available for the current year and up to nine prior tax years.

Verification of nonfiling letter

This document isn't a transcript per se, but is a form that says the IRS has no record of a processed Form 1040-series tax return for a specific tax year.

This letter can be requested after June 15 for the current tax year or anytime for the previous three tax years.

» MORE: How to file back taxes

How to get your IRS tax transcripts

Tax transcripts from the IRS are free for taxpayers. Allec said that, generally speaking, you can request tax transcripts from the IRS in one of three ways:

  • Online through the IRS site
  • Over the phone by calling the IRS's automated transcript phone line at 800-908-9946
  • Via mail by completing, signing and mailing Form 4506-T to the IRS; "The specific address you should use depends on where you live and can be found in the instructions to Form 4506-T," said Allec.

Exactly how you need to request IRS tax transcripts can depend on the type of transcript you want.

How to get a copy of your tax return

While IRS tax transcripts include much of the information listed in your actual tax return, they don't include every page or document. This means you'll have to take a different approach if you want a copy of your actual tax return instead of a transcript.

If you filed your taxes electronically with a tax software program like H&R Block or TurboTax, the program will likely have a copy of your previous returns from the last few years. So, that's a good place to start.

If you need a full copy of your federal tax return from the IRS, however, you can get copies from the last seven years for $43 each. You may have to wait up to 75 days for your information to be processed.

You can make the request by submitting Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return to the IRS. If you need a copy of your state tax returns, you will need to contact your state's department of revenue.

» MORE: How to file your taxes for free

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When do you need tax transcripts?

According to Allec, you may need copies of tax transcripts or previous years' tax returns if you're preparing your current year's return and need to access old information. For example, if you incurred significant capital losses — from, say, stock or cryptocurrency trading — in previous years, you may have a capital loss carryforward that can reduce this year's tax bill.

Third parties such as mortgage lenders may be interested in seeing your tax return transcripts to approve you for a loan. It's also possible you'll need a tax return transcript if you're applying for tax relief.

Is there a fee for requesting my tax transcripts?

Tax transcripts from the IRS are free of charge. However, getting a copy of your federal tax return requires a fee of $43.

How many years back do your tax transcripts go?

Some types of federal tax transcripts can be accessed for the current year and up to nine prior years. Other types can only be accessed for the current year and up to three prior years.

Bottom line

You can access tax information from previous years’ returns either by requesting a tax return transcript or asking for a full copy. A tax return transcript will be sufficient for your needs most of the time. For example, if you need to prove your income for a loan, housing or benefits, a tax return transcript will be enough more often than not.

You can access most tax transcripts online for free and download them on your home computer right away. This is far more convenient than requesting a full copy of your tax return from the IRS, which costs $43 and can take up to 75 days to process.

Article sources

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:

  1. IRS, "Get your tax record." Accessed Feb. 20, 2024.
  2. IRS, "Transcript types and ways to order them." Accessed Feb. 20, 2024.
  3. USAGov, "Get transcripts and copies of tax returns." Accessed Feb. 20, 2024.
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