How Can I Get a Copy of My 1040?

by Victoria Lee Blackstone ; Updated August 29, 2018
How Can I Get a Copy of My 1040?

Even the most organized person can misplace an important file amid the demands of a hectic schedule. If that file happens to be a copy of your 1040 income tax return, you may never need to replace it. But there are many instances in which you may find yourself wanting a replacement copy. You may need to refer to last year’s tax figures to compute the current year’s tax liability. Or, if you're in the process of buying a home, you may discover that you need to provide the lender with a copy of your tax returns from the past two to three years. And if you’re applying for a student loan, your tax return may be the key to your loan approval. The good news is that even if a search of your 1040 leaves you empty-handed, you can likely still get a copy of it.

Tips

  • If a visit down your 1040 paper trail (or digital trail) leaves you empty-handed with no copy in sight, you can get the information from your tax preparer or from the IRS.

Contact Your Tax Preparer

If a professional tax preparer filed your 1040 for you, the fastest way to get a copy of it is as close as a phone call or email to her. Once your preparer files your return with the IRS, it stays in her database even after she transmits it. By law, a preparer must keep copies of filed returns for a minimum of three years. Most preparers keep copies for many more years than that, just in case of a tax audit that goes back beyond three years. And in today’s digital age, tax preparers typically file tax returns online, so retrieving a copy is as easy as making a few clicks with your computer or smartphone.

Generally, preparers create an online account for their clients so the clients can view their filed returns. But if you never viewed your filed return online and you can’t even remember your username and password to access it, your tax preparer can quickly walk you through these steps. Even if your preparer filed your return by mailing a paper copy to the IRS, she should still have a copy in her files. Accessing a digital copy will not typically cost you a fee, but if your preparer has to copy a paper return, you may have to pay a copying fee and/or an administrative fee to provide it to you.

Visit the IRS Online

If you're unable to reach your tax preparer, the next quickest way to get a copy of your tax return is to visit the IRS online at IRS.gov/transcripts to access its automated "Get Transcript" tool. When the page loads, you'll have two choices for getting your tax return – online or by mail. For either option, you'll have to provide some information online to verify your identity and then you'll be able to view a copy of your tax transcript.

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What Is a Tax Transcript?

A tax transcript is not an exact duplicate of your tax return as you'd see from a photocopy, but it does contain a summary of the information that you submitted with your return. The IRS provides free copies of certain types of tax transcripts if you access them online, or if the IRS mails them. But if you want an exact duplicate of your tax return mailed to you, you'll have to pay a fee.

Types of IRS Transcripts

The IRS offers these types of transcripts free of charge:

  • Tax return transcript. This transcript gives the most comprehensive information, including your adjusted gross income and all forms and schedules that you filed with your original tax return. If you subsequently amended your return, the tax return transcript will not reflect these changes. This transcript is available for the current year's return as well as returns for the past three years. If you're qualifying for a mortgage loan or applying for a student loan, typically the requesting institutions will accept this transcript for verification of income.
  • Tax account transcript. This transcript includes your adjusted gross income, taxable income, marital status and any changes you may have made after you amended your original return. If you request this transcript online using the IRS "Get Transcript" tool or by mail using IRS Form 4506-T, you'll be able to retrieve data from the past 10 years 
  • Record of account transcript. This comprehensive transcript includes data from the tax return and tax account transcripts, and you'll be able to request this one for the current year as well as your returns for the past three years. If you're not sure which transcript you need, the IRS recommends ordering this record of account transcript because it contains the most data.
  • Wage and income transcript. The data on this transcript includes all the figures on information returns, including your W-2, 1099, 1098 and Form 5498 (IRA contributions).
  • Verification of non-filing letter. The IRS will confirm that you did not file a Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ tax return for the current year as well as the past three years.

Get Transcript Online

From IRS.gov/transcripts, you'll first need to create an account with your name, Social Security number, date of birth, filing status and the mailing address from your most recent tax return. You'll also need access to an email account and a personal account number from a credit card or loan source such as a mortgage, car loan, home equity loan or home equity line of credit. The IRS also requires that you have access to a mobile phone with your name on the account. After you've created your account, you'll have immediate access to view your transcript, print it or download it.

Get Transcript by Mail

To receive a mailed transcript, you only have to enter your Social Security number or Individual Tax Identification Number, date of birth and the mailing address from your most recent tax return into the IRS "Get Transcript" tool. After you enter this information online, the IRS will mail your tax return, which will arrive five to 10 days after your request. If you prefer not to transmit this personal information online, you can also download Form 4506-T (Requested for Transcript of Tax Return) at IRS.gov. After you complete the form, mail it to the IRS at the address listed on the form and the IRS will mail you a free copy of your tax transcript.

Get a Photocopy

If you want an actual duplicate photocopy of your tax return, download Form 4506 (Request for Copy of Tax Return) from IRS.gov. After you complete the form, mail it to the IRS at the address listed on the form with a check for $50 for each tax return you want, and the IRS will mail your copy to you.

Call the IRS

If you have any questions about accessing your tax return transcript online or ordering your transcript online or by mail, call the IRS at 800-908-9946.

Contact the Social Security Administration

You may be trying to locate a past copy of your 1040 only because you need to retrieve your W-2 form for a Social Security-related issue. If this is the case, the Social Security Administration can help by providing free copies of your W-2s going back to 1978. (The Social Security Administration does not provide copies of Forms 1040, only W-2s.) If you need a copy of your W-2 for a non-Social Security-related reason, the Social Security Administration will still provide you with a copy, but you'll have to pay a fee of $86 for each W-2 you need. Non-related reasons include filing your tax returns, establishing residency and verifying your income for workers' compensation. If you want the Social Security Administration to send a copy of your W-2, write to them with your request at:

Social Security Administration, Office of Central Operations, Office of Earnings and International Operations, Division of Earnings and Business Services, P. O. Box 33003, Baltimore, MD, 21290-3003.

Include this information with your request:

  • Your name – exactly as it appears on your Social Security card.
  • Any different names that may have appeared on past W-2s.
  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your complete mailing address.
  • Your daytime telephone number.
  • The year(s) for which you need copies of your W-2s.
  • The reason for your request.

Types of Forms 1040

The IRS provides different types of 1040 forms that correspond to different tax situations of U.S. taxpayers. Beginning with the 2019 tax year, for returns you'll file in 2020, you'll have an easier decision of which 1040 to use. The IRS is debuting a new 1040 form, which combines three existing forms – the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ – into one comprehensive form. Currently, the most commonly used 1040s, include:

  • Form 1040 (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return – “the long form”). Form 1040 is known as the long form because it allows taxpayers to itemize deductions, claim tax credits and adjust income.
  • Form 1040A (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return – “the short form”). This tax form is not as extensive as the 1040 long form, but it still allows taxpayers to claim tax deductions and credits.
  • Form 1040EZ (Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers with No Dependents). The 1040EZ form is even shorter than the 1040A; in fact, it’s the most concise federal income tax return. This streamlined version of the long and short forms is the easiest to complete if you’re single or if you’re married filing jointly but you have no dependents. However, you cannot claim “head of household” on this form, which may bring a higher tax benefit than filing single.
  • Form 1040NR (U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return). For nonresident aliens, this tax form most closely resembles the long form 1040 that’s designed for U.S. residents. Even if you had no business income while living in the U.S. during a tax year, but you were engaged with a U.S. business, you’re required to file Form 1040NR. You must also file this form to report your income even if a treaty with your country renders your income tax-exempt.
  • Form 1040NR-EZ (U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens with No Dependents). For nonresident aliens who claim no dependents, Form 1040NR-EZ is the shorter version of Form 1040NR.

IRS Free File

If you file your tax return with one of the two IRS Free File options, you'll create an account with the IRS that you can use to access your 1040 information so it's always at your fingertips, just a few key strokes away where you can download it or print it. Taxpayers with incomes below $66,000 can use IRS Free File Software, which includes options for easy-to-use, brand name tax-preparation software. If you use the software, the IRS offers options of different software products that you can use. With the software, you'll file your tax return online following the prompts that provide step-by-step instructions. Taxpayers with income above $66,000 can use IRS Free File Fillable Forms. If you use the forms, download IRS Publication 5274 (Free File Fillable Forms User's Guide) to follow a step-by-step procedure for completing your tax form. Visit IRS.gov/freefile to access these filing options and create your online account.

About the Author

Victoria Lee Blackstone was formerly with Freddie Mac’s mortgage acquisition department, where she funded multi-million-dollar loan pools for primary lending institutions, worked on a mortgage fraud task force and wrote the convertible ARM section of the company’s policies and procedures manual. Currently, Blackstone is a professional writer with expertise in the fields of mortgage, finance, budgeting and tax. She is the author of more than 2,000 published works for newspapers, magazines, online publications and individual clients.

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