Tips for Accessing Your Tax Records from the IRS



The IRS advises people to keep copies of their tax returns. Still, if you have misplaced your copies or you would like to have extras on hand, you have the right to request them from the government. Before you contact the IRS to ask for a copy of any of your tax records, however, you should understand why you have the right and what process the IRS asks that you abide by when making your request.


The Freedom of Information Act

You and other taxpayers have the right to access copies of your tax returns thanks to the Freedom of Information Act of 1996, or FOIA. This act was designed to increase government transparency and to reiterate the fact that the government and its information belong to the people.

This Act now means that you can legally access your current and prior years' tax returns and tax transcripts by following a precise procedure outlined by the IRS. You also must fill out and submit the appropriate IRS forms and pay any applicable fees before being allowed access to your records.

Documents You Can Access

The FOIA also gives you access to a wide variety of tax records that were once either off-limits or only made available to you under special circumstances. You can now contact the IRS in writing, by phone, or online to request records like:

  • 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ tax returns
  • Tax refund transcripts
  • Tax account transcripts
  • Tax forms
  • Tax publications
  • Tax-exempt or political organization returns and other public documents
  • Tax court opinions
  • IRS revenue code

As noted, you must fill out and submit either in writing or online the proper IRS forms required for each type of document that you request. For example, if you want a copy of your current year's 1040A tax return, you must use IRS Form 4506. Many of these records, including your own tax returns and transcripts for this year and three years prior, are available to you at no cost.


The Process for Accessing Your IRS Records

While you legally have the right to access your records from the IRS, you are asked to follow a prescribed process so that you get the correct documents quickly and easily. First, you should determine the kind of document of which you would like a copy.

Many people, for example, order their tax refund transcript when they actually need a copy of their account transcript. A tax refund transcript shows most of the lines of your tax return as well as your attached forms and schedules. It will not reflect any changes that you or the IRS made after you filed, however.

A tax account transcript shows details like:

  • Adjustments made by you or the IRS after you filed your taxes
  • Marital status
  • Filing status
  • Adjusted gross income, or AGI
  • All taxable income

You can request copies of both your refund and account transcripts for the current year as well as the past three years at no cost. You can have your transcripts mailed to you, which typically takes between five to 10 days to receive. You can also have a copy emailed directly to you if you would like to have the record sooner.

If you need tax records from longer than three years ago, you can still request them from the IRS by paying a $57 fee and filling out the IRS Form 4506 for each applicable tax year. The IRS has up to 60 days to mail those records to you.

The Freedom of Information Act of 1996 gives you access to your tax records and other documents from the IRS. You can make the process easier by knowing what records you can order and what process you are asked to follow online, by phone, or in writing.

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