If you're missing a return, the IRS offers them for free, for the current year and the previous three years. You can request a tax return transcript online, by phone or by mail. The easiest way is online, with the Order a Transcript tool. To create an account, you'll need to verify your identity with the usual information: name, date of birth, Social Security number, filing status and mailing address (use the one on your most recently filed return). Then, you'll be asked to answer a series of verification questions from a third party. These questions are generated by a credit reporting company, but your request isn't reported to lenders and doesn't affect your credit score.
You'll have the choice of requesting a tax return transcript, tax account transcript or a record of account transcript. Return transcripts show all line items from your Form 1040, 1040A or 1040 EZ, along with all forms and schedules you filed. They don't show any changes you might have made to the return after filing, but they will be sufficient for most mortgage and student loan applications. Tax account transcripts do include any post-filing changes, along with basic data like marital status, adjusted gross income and taxable income. A record of account transcript combines the two.
You can also get a verification of nonfiling letter if there's a legitimate reason you didn't file taxes in a certain year. And wage and income transcripts show the data from your W-2, 1099 and 1098 forms. If you order online, you'll receive your transcript in five to 10 days. A tax account transcript ordered by mail could take up to 30 days.
If, for some reason, you'd like to have a full copy of a filed and processed return, you'll have to fork over $57 and fill out Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. Those are available for the current year and the previous six years. If you live in a federal disaster area, this fee could be waived -- there's a "disaster relief" link on IRS.gov if you're in this situation.
Check out the links below for more IRS information.
Author's Note: How IRS Tax Return Transcripts Work
My tax returns aren't necessarily meticulously organized, but I have actually located them for a couple of mortgage and refinancing applications. I do keep them for way too long, though, so I should probably get to work on thinning out my file pile.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Get Transcript." (Nov. 14, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-Transcript
- Internal Revenue Service. "How to Get a Transcript or Copy of a Prior Year Tax Return." July 24, 2013. (Nov. 13, 2014) https://www.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/personal-income-taxes/irs.htm
- Internal Revenue Service. "How Long Should I Keep Records?" (Nov. 14, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-long-should-I-keep-records
- Wood, Robert W. "How Long Can IRS Audit? It All Depends On You." Forbes, April 3, 2014. (Nov. 14, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2014/04/03/how-long-can-irs-audit-it-all-depends-on-you/