Do you remember where you filed your tax return? What about your tax return from 3 years ago? The IRS recommends that you keep at least 3 years of tax returns on hand. But what if you can’t find your tax return in your black hole filing cabinet? Tax Transcripts are the answer.
Plus, maybe you're an early filer and are wondering what's going on with your tax refund? Maybe you've followed our chart about when to expect your tax refund, and it's not there yet? And you've called the IRS but the wait time is outrageous? Well, some people also like to use their tax transcript to find out why their tax refund is delayed.
Below we explain what they are, why you might need them, and how to get them.
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Tax Transcripts To The Rescue!
Tax transcripts contain all the major information you need from a tax return. They would include adjusted gross income, filing, status, wages and other income, even a record of non-filing. The IRS keeps tax transcripts for each person for each of the last three years (plus the current year).
Transcripts don’t look exactly like the forms you filed for your taxes. Instead, they just contain direct information.
There are five types of transcripts you can request from the IRS:
- Tax Return Transcript: Shows most line items from your original tax return, but it doesn’t show changes after you filed your original return.
- Tax Account Transcript: Shows personal filing information plus AGI, taxable income and payment types.
- Record of Account Transcript: Combines Account and Return transcripts.
- Wages and Income Transcript- Shows income side information only.
- Verification of Non-filing letter- Proves that you didn’t file in a given year.
Most of the time, you will need the Tax Return Transcript.
When Do I Need A Tax Transcript?
If you meticulously keep all your tax return documents, you may not never need to pull a tax transcript. However, tax transcripts come in handy often.
Your college may require a copy of your or your parents tax returns when you apply for student aid. Mortgage companies usually want at least one year of tax returns (often 2 or more) when you apply for a mortgage. You can use a tax transcript when you apply for Federal Health Care Programs (like Medicaid or CHIP) or for Housing Assistance.
If you don’t keep a digital copy of your returns, you might have an easier time accessing the returns from the IRS than scanning your own returns.
The IRS says they keep at least three years of records. I found all my transcripts that I’ve filed since I became legally independent from my parents.
How To Get A Tax Transcript
Since tax transcripts contain sensitive information, the IRS requires quite a bit of personal information to access your tax transcript.
To request a tax transcript, go to the IRS Transcript Website. Select whether you want to download your transcript, or if you want a copy of your transcript by mail.
An online transcript is quicker to access, but it requires more information. You must provide:
- Full Name
- Filing Status (for your most recent tax filing)
- Mailing Address (for your most recent tax filing)
- Email Address
- Account number from a credit card, HELOC, mortgage, auto loan or car loan
- Mobile phone number where you are the primary account holder
Many young people don’t have everything they need to get a transcript online. If you don’t, you can select “Get Transcript by Mail.” This requires:
- Full name
- Social Security Number (Or ITIN)
- Date of Birth
- Mailing Address from latest Tax Return
If you choose to get your transcripts online, you’ll get an email with a verification code and a text with a verification code. They will also double check the account number you provide. Then, you can get your transcript.
You also have to provide a reason that you’re pulling your transcript. I think this is just for IRS record keeping. They don’t explain it anywhere on the site.
Finally, you can choose the type of transcript you want, and the year. Then a PDF will download to your computer. Be sure you have your Pop-Up blocker off when you download the PDF.
The online process is quick and easy. I got my transcripts in about ten minutes.
Whether you’re completing the FAFSA or applying for a mortgage, Tax Transcripts can make your life easier. Be sure to keep it in mind the next time you need to verify your income.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.