How to Replace a Lost Income Tax Return

Keep copies of your returns in a safe place.

Keep copies of your returns in a safe place.

Though it is recommended that you keep copies of your tax returns for seven years, accidents happen and returns can get lost or damaged. Should this happen, you might want to replace the returns to keep your records up to date. Additionally, copies of your returns might be needed if the IRS or your state tax department audits you or if you have a need to prove your yearly income. Obtaining copies of your tax return is a simple process.

Items you will need

  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Printer
  • Identification
  • Envelope

Ask your tax preparer for a copy of the missing tax returns, if you used an outside person or company to prepare your returns. Most tax preparers will keep an electronic or paper copy of their client’s returns, though some might only store returns for a certain number of years. You might be required to pay a fee for obtaining a copy of your return. Check with your tax preparer regarding availability and costs.

Fill out IRS form 4506 to obtain a copy of your federal tax returns from the IRS. The form can be downloaded at the IRS's website, or you can call their customer service number at 800-829-3676 to have a form mailed to you. Include a check or money order for $57 made out to the “United States Treasury” when you mail the form to the IRS. The instructions on the form will provide the correct mailing address for your region. The returns should arrive in the mail within 60 days of the IRS receiving your request.

Contact your state treasury or tax department to obtain a copy of your state tax returns. The process varies from state to state, but most will likely follow a similar format to those of the IRS. For example, California requires that you either fill out form FTB 3516 or request a return in writing by providing your name, social security number, telephone number, address, tax year that you are requesting and signature. The California State Franchise Tax Board also requires a check or money order for $20 and a photocopy of your drivers license or state issued identification card.


  • Tax returns that have been filed jointly only require one signature when requesting a copy.
  • A faster and less expensive option is to request a tax return transcript from the IRS. This document is a printout that contains your return information, but is not an exact copy of your tax return. The transcript is provided free of charge and usually arrives in the mail within 10 to 30 days.

About the Author

Based in San Francisco, Beth Rifkin has been writing health- and fitness-related articles since 2005. Her bylines include "Tennis Life," "Ms. Fitness," "Triathlon Magazine," "Inside Tennis," "American Fitness" and others. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Temple University.

Photo Credits

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