What Is a Tax Return Transcript?

FT Contributor  | 

The IRS recommends that you keep your tax returns from the last three years, but not everyone does. Tax return transcripts can be helpful in the case where someone doesn’t maintain a record of their returns.

A tax return transcript is a record of your previously filed taxes. There are a number of reasons you may need to request a tax transcript. For example, you may need to submit these records when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Tax return transcripts are also required when applying for a mortgage or applying for a federal health Program. Other reasons someone may need a tax return transcript are so that they can check on their status with the IRS, resolve tax discrepancies, or prepare their taxes the following year.

Regardless of why you need a tax return transcript, it’s important to understand the information it will present. The type of transcript you request will depend on the information you require. Here, we’ll help you understand what a tax return transcript is and how to obtain your own if need be.

Tax Transcript: What Is It?

A tax transcript summarizes tax return information and includes your adjusted gross income (AGI). Instead of examining your entire tax return, a transcript quickly summarizes pertinent information, making it easy to find.

You can request tax transcripts online, over the phone, or via direct mail. To do so online, you need to authenticate your identity and request the forms through the IRS transcript portal. You can also call the IRS, or mail-in Form 4506-T or Form 4506-T-EZ.

There are a few different types of tax transcripts, so it’s important to request the right one. Below, we’ll break down each transcript type and why someone would request that information.

Transcript Types

There are different types of tax transcripts you can request. Below, we break down each type and the information that the tax transcript contains.

Tax Return

This detailed transcript contains most of the line items from your taxes, including your adjusted gross income. The information is from the previous year as well as the tax information from three years prior.

This transcript is usually requested when applying for mortgages, student loans, or financial aid. If you made any changes to your taxes after filing, note that this transcript will not show that information. Also, tax return transcripts can take longer to receive than other types of transcripts, especially if you owe money on your taxes.

Tax Account

A tax account transcript shows basic data such as your tax return type, marital status, AGI, taxable income, and all payment types. The information is from the current tax year and as far back as 10 years if you request online or with Form 4506-T. If you request by mail or phone, the transcript will only show three years prior.

This transcript is most commonly requested to confirm that tax payments were applied. Unlike a tax return transcript, a tax account transcript will display any changes that were made to your taxes after you’ve filed them.

Record of Account

This type of transcript combines what you would receive if you requested a tax return and a tax account transcript. The information on these transcripts is from the current tax year as well as the three years prior.

A record of account transcript is useful if you’re filing an amended tax return. It will show your original return as well as the changes you’ve made, making it easy for the IRS to understand and process your taxes.

Wage and Income

A wage and income transcript will show data from information documents the IRS receives, such as Forms W-2, 1099, 1098, and 5498. The information is from the current tax year, but the information from the last 10 years can be requested with  Form 4506-T. The information contained on this transcript is from the current tax year, but it may not be available until July of the year it is requested.

Verification of Non-Filing Letter

Despite being obligated to do so, some taxpayers may fail to file a return. Verification of non-filing letter serves as proof that the IRS does not have a record of Form 1040 for an individual for a particular year. This can be requested for the current tax year and up to 10 years prior with Form 4506-T, or up to three years in the past if the request is made over the phone or by mail.

Note that this transcript does not indicate whether you were obligated to file a tax return, and is only available after June 15 for a current tax year.

There are other ways to obtain tax transcripts. If you use software to prepare your taxes, the provider of that software may have these records on hand. Similarly, if you use a tax preparer, they may have these transcripts for you.

There are many reasons someone would need a tax return transcript. If you are in need of your records, reach out to the IRS or your tax preparation service to obtain these records.


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This post was updated December 4, 2019. It was originally published December 4, 2019.