3 Ways You Can Obtain Copies of Your Prior Year Tax Return

You should always keep copies of your tax return for a variety of reasons. The first one is for the tax audit. If a tax auditor made an inquiry on your taxes, you should be able to go back to what you’ve reported. In most cases, IRS can only audit your return for the past three years but they can go beyond that if  there is suspicion of fraud or criminal act. Other reasons may involved inquiries from third party companies such as when you are applying for mortgage loans, student financial aid, business loans, licenses, etc. You may also need it if you are filing for bankruptcy.

If you prepare your tax return using a tax preparation software from your personal computer, you should always keep both an electronic and paper copy of it.

However, if in case you lost,misplaced and for whatever reason you no longer have the copies, you may be able to obtain them through the following:

1. Online Tax Preparation Service You Used

If you use the online tax preparation software, you may be able to still download it from there subject to the prior year access rights and certain fees. Some online tax preparation service may not have this policy so it is better to always check with them. Others may charge a nominal fee for doing so while it may be free for others.

2. From Your Professional Tax Preparer

If you use a professional tax preparer, chances are they also have copies of prior year return since they would also keep it for audit purposes. They may also charge fees for doing this service.

3. Request Copies Directly from the IRS

The most common way to obtain copies of your return is by requesting directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). There are two types of copies that you can request:

  • Transcript of Your Tax Return – which just shows line numbers with the corresponding amounts. The transcript includes amounts from the all the forms that you used in your original filing. It will not include any changes made after the return was filed. The copies are available only for the current year and the past three years return
  • Actual Tax Return – as the name states, this is the exact copies of the tax return such as the 1040 and any accompanying schedules. Copies are available for the current year and also the past six years.

How to Request Copies:

Transcript of Return – If you only want copies of 1040, 1040A or 1040-EZ, you can request one by using Form 4506T-EZShort Form Request. However, if you need the 1040 form along with all other schedule, then you would need to use  Form 4506TRequest for Transcript of Tax Return

  • Cost: Free of Charge
  • Order By Phone – call 800-908-9946 and follow the prompts in the recorded message
  • Order Online – go to the IRS .gov website Order A Transcript
  • May take at least 30 days to receive the transcript

Copies of the Actual Forms – if you want the actual copies of your return, you need to complete Form 4506 - Request for Copy of Tax Return and mail it to the IRS. 

  • Cost: $57 for each tax year that you order
  • Request: Only through the mail
  • May take at least 60 days to receive the  actual copies of your return.


  1. Very useful resources Ken! Hopefully I wouldn’t have to order copies, but if I do, I know where to look!