Q: How do I get copies of my old tax returns?

A: The IRS provides several options for retrieving prior year tax data.  If all that you need is a copy of the information from your return, you can request a “return transcript.”  This transcript will show most of the line items from your return, including accompanying forms and schedules.  A return transcript will not show any changes or payments made after you filed your return.

If you are interested in changes or payments made after you initially filed your return, you can request an “account transcript.”  This transcript gives you the basic data from your return, along with any later adjustments or payments.

Transcripts are free to request and can be ordered online, by phone at 1-800-908-9946, or by using a paper Form 4506-T.  Allow 10 to 30 days for transcripts ordered online or by phone and a little longer if you use the paper form.

If a transcript isn’t going to get you what you need, you can request a copy of your actual return by filing Form 4506.  Copies of your past returns will cost you $57 per return, and can take up to 60 days to receive.

If you need your return information faster, contact a tax professional who has access to the IRS e-services system.  By submitting a Form 2848 Power of Attorney electronically, your tax professional should be able to obtain copies of your transcripts immediately online.  Unfortunately, copies of your actual return still have to be requested by paper.

**UPDATE** When I originally drafted this post, I requested a copy of my individual tax transcript the same day.  I received my transcript in the mail on February 11, 2012, for a turnaround time of 15 days – Not bad!

IRS CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the Internal Revenue Service, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this communication.