How to obtain old tax documents

Do you need old tax documents from the IRS? Here's the difference between a tax return transcript and an exact copy of your tax return. Learn which one is right for your situation and what steps you need to take to obtain them from the IRS.

by Alicia Tuovila
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

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?

woman looking at paperwork working on laptop

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.

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 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 $43 as of 2021.

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 or by calling the IRS at 1-800-908-9946. 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 the 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 the 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.

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Alicia Tuovila

About the Author

Alicia Tuovila

Alicia Tuovila is an accounting and finance writer based in Tennessee. She holds an active Certified Public Accountant (… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.