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Dorothy Rosen -- The Dollar Diva Ask the Dollar Diva

Where can I get copies of my tax returns?

Dear Dollar Diva,
My husband and I are getting ready to buy a home, and we need our Federal Form 1040s from 1997, 1998, and 1999. Unfortunately, we can't find them. Is it possible to get copies of them?

The most obvious first place to go is your tax preparer, if you had someone else prepare your tax returns for those years. If not, fill out IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form, send it to the IRS, and it will provide the information you need.

Form 4506 will get you transcripts or copies; which should you ask for? Go for the transcripts if your lender will accept them.

Transcripts are only available for tax returns in the Form 1040 series, such as 1040, 1040A, 1040 EZ. They show most of the items from the original return, including accompanying forms and schedules, and should contain the information your financial institution is looking for.

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It won't cost you a dime for the transcripts, and you can expect delivery seven to 10 workdays after the IRS receives your request.

Copies of your tax forms
If your lender insists on copies of the tax forms, the IRS will do it for you. It will make copies of the forms and all attachments, including W-2's, and charge you $23 for each year. That's a pricey $69 for the three years you need.

On top of that, expect to twiddle your thumbs for up to 60 days while you wait for the copies to arrive.

Saving your tax records
Save your tax returns and all supporting documentation for six years after you file them. The IRS only has three years to come after you for an audit, but if it thinks you didn't report 25 percent of your gross income, it has six years to track you down.

There's no time limit if Uncle Sam thinks the tax return you filed is fraudulent, so bad guys are expected to keep their tax records indefinitely.

-- Posted: March 12, 2001

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