Filling in tax record gaps

Your banker is set to approve your loan as soon as he gets copies of your last few tax returns. There's just one problem. You can't find them.

While there's no reason to go overboard in your tax record keeping, sometimes you do need old paperwork. Loan officers usually want copies of past returns to verify your financial situation and income sources. Your filings can help you track IRA contributions or verify that your Social Security payroll taxes were properly paid.

And what if you discover you overlooked a tax break that would have netted you a bigger return? You need your original 1040 before you can file a corrected return and collect your money.

If you never kept copies, lost them in a move or, worst-case scenario, they were destroyed in a disaster (which itself could be a reason you need old tax documents), there are several ways to get your hands on the information.

2 choices when requesting tax records
  • Form 4506-T will get you a transcript of your tax filings for specified years. This is a synopsis that shows most line items from your original individual tax returns. There is no charge for transcripts.
  • Form 4506 will get you a photocopy of your tax return, along with copies of the accompanying documents you sent with your 1040. You must pay for this service.

Just the facts, ma'am

If you need minimal data or a quick confirmation of your filing information, ask the Internal Revenue Service to send you a transcript. All you have to do if file Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return. The process is relatively fast, easy and free.

Form 4506-T gives you two choices: a return transcript or an account transcript.

A tax return transcript is not a copy of your actual return, but a synopsis that shows most line items from your original individual tax filing, be it Form 1040, 1040EZ or 1040A. You also can get a tax transcript if you filed various corporate returns (such as the 1120 series of forms or Form 1065). A return transcript also will provide information on any other forms and schedules that accompanied your filing.

If you amended your filing, however, any changes you subsequently made won't show up on a return transcript. In this case, you'll need to get an account transcript.

A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments to your taxes after the return was filed. This includes payments made, penalty assessments and adjustments, made either by you or the IRS. This transcript also shows basic data, including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income. Account transcripts are available for most types of returns.

In many cases, a transcript meets the requirements of the lending institution, including guidelines established by the Small Business Administration or Department of Education for processing mortgages, student loans or other financing requests. Transcripts also may be acceptable to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Both return and account transcripts are readily available for the year a return is filed and for returns processed during the preceding three years. If your request falls within this time frame, your condensed tax information will be sent to you in 10 to 14 days. But if you want data from a return filed more than four years ago, it could take up to a month for your request to be filled.

The wait is made a bit easier, however, when you consider that there is no charge (aside from the cost of your stamp) for tax transcripts.


The whole enchilada

Where more complete tax data is needed, file Form 4506, Request for a Copy of Tax Return.

This will get you a photocopy of your tax return, along with copies of the accompanying documents you sent with your 1040. This includes W-2s, schedules and other tax forms that were part of that filing.

This is not a request to make if you're in a hurry.

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