Certain situations may require you to have access to your previously filed tax returns. The most common is during a loan application process when your lender requests prior years' tax information to verify your stated income. You may also need old tax information to amend a prior-year tax return, compare it to your current-year tax return, or defend yourself in the case of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit.
While you should save a copy of your business tax returns for a minimum of seven years if a situation arises and you need to access an old tax document you do not have in your possession, what should you do?
Tax transcript vs. exact copy of tax return
You can obtain an exact copy of your previously filed tax return by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return with the IRS. You can request many types of tax returns on the Form 4506, including:
In some cases, a tax return transcript may satisfy the person or entity requesting your tax information. Most mortgage lenders are satisfied with the information provided on a tax return transcript when a copy of the tax return is unavailable.
A tax return transcript is a shorter printout of the information on your previously filed tax return. It lists most line items including your adjusted gross income (AGI) from your original tax return as filed. It does not show any changes made in an amendment to your return. A tax return transcript is only available for the current year and the previous three years.
There are several advantages to the tax return transcript. It is free, while there is a small fee for an exact copy of your tax return. The fee for an exact copy of your tax return is $50 as of 2023.
The processing time is also much shorter for a tax return transcript. You can get your tax return transcript instantly with the Get a Tax Transcript tool on the IRS website. Alternatively, you can complete and mail in Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return. If you mail in your request for a tax return transcript, you can expect to receive it in the mail after five to 10 business days. On the other hand, if you mail in Form 4506, you can expect to wait up to 75 calendar days to receive an exact copy of your tax return.
Please note, if you file a tax return jointly with your spouse, only the primary spouse listed on the tax return can request a tax return transcript via the telephone. Either spouse can request a tax return transcript via the website or complete and mail the Form 4506-T. Similarly, either spouse can complete and mail Form 4506 to request an exact copy of the tax return.
Other transcript types
There are several other tax transcript types.
A tax account transcript shows a more abbreviated version of important information from your previous tax return. It shows your return type, filing status, AGI, taxable income, and payment type. This transcript type is available for more tax years than the tax return transcript; you can request a tax account transcript for up to 10 prior years.
A record of account transcript combines both the tax return and tax account transcripts into a complete transcript. It is available for the prior three years.
A wage and income transcript shows data from information returns filed with the IRS, such as Form W-2 Wage and Tax Statement, Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement, and the various Form 1099s. These are available for up to 10 prior years, although the current tax year information may be incomplete until July.
Other document retention tips:
- Records on asset cost and depreciation should be retained for three years after selling, transferring, or disposing of the property. Businesses should keep payroll records for a minimum of four years.
- For inheritances, you will need to know the date-of-death value.
- For gifts, you will need to know the donor’s cost.
Find out more about Business Taxes