The IRS recommends that you keep copies of your tax returns for at least three years. However, even if you diligently keep records of the returns you’ve filed, a third party might require a certified copy of your return from the IRS to make sure you aren’t forging documents. For example, if you apply for a mortgage or other loan, the lender may want to verify your income and expenses to make sure you can repay the loan as agreed.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
You can order a certified copy of tax returns filed in prior years from the IRS for $50.
Requesting a Certified Tax Return
You can request a copy of your tax return from the IRS for the current tax year or any of the six previous tax years. Each copy includes any attachments filed with your tax return, such as your W-2s from your employers. To order a copy of your tax return from the IRS, complete Form 4506 and mail it to the appropriate address based on where you live. The form requires your name, current address and address at the time you filed the return, where you want the certified copy mailed (such as a bank), the tax form you are requesting and the tax year or years for which you would like copies.
You must also include a $50 check or money order made out to the United States Treasury. On the check, write your taxpayer ID number and "Form 4506 request.” According to the IRS, it takes about 75 days to process your request.
Tax Transcript Alternative
According to the IRS, taxpayers often think that they need a certified tax return copy when they really only need a transcript of the tax return. For example, the IRS says that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, student loan lenders and mortgage lenders often accept a tax transcript instead of a copy of the tax return. An IRS transcript of your tax return can be requested free of charge by calling the IRS at 800-908-9946 or submitting IRS Form 4506-T. You can also use the IRS website to request a transcript.
No Changes for 2018
The IRS has not made any changes to the process for getting a copy or transcript of your tax return for a previous year. The only difference between requesting copies of your tax return in 2018 versus 2017 is that you can no longer request copies or transcripts of your 2011 return because it’s past the six-year limit.
- Do not mistake form 4506 with the tax-return transcript form 4506-T. A tax return transcript does not show all your information and is not certified by the IRS.
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."