IRS Transcripts: What Are They Are and Why Are They Important?

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An IRS transcript is a record of your tax returns from previous years.[1] This summary or overview of your tax return information is available in five different types of reports. They include most line items from your tax return, like your adjusted gross income (AGI), your filing status, payments, and return type.[2]

Your IRS transcript can be obtained from the government by requesting it online or by mail at no charge.[3]

Why are IRS transcripts important?

Your IRS transcript can be helpful when applying for a student loan or a mortgage. This information may be beneficial to the lending institution. An IRS transcript includes the majority of the line items from the original tax return that you filed.[4]

People will use their tax transcripts for several reasons. They may want to understand their status with the IRS; research their income history; verify that their return information for a lender or in connection with a legal issue; prepare accurate and complete tax returns that show all their income reported to the IRS; help resolve many tax notices, discrepancies, and other issues; and research their account when under IRS audit.[5]

These transcripts are available for the current year, as well as the previous three years.

What are the different transcript types?

There are five types of ta transcripts that are available from the IRS:

Tax Return Transcript. This transcript shows most line items including your AGI from your original tax return as filed, along with any forms and schedules. The original tax return is either Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. However, a tax return transcript doesn’t show changes made after you filed your original return. This transcript is only available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years. This type of transcript typically is sufficient for lending institutions in processing a mortgage or a student loan.[6]

Tax Account Transcript. This transcript provides basic data such as return type, marital status, adjusted gross income, taxable income, and all payment types. The tax account transcript also shows any modifications you made after you filed your original return. Note that this type of transcript is available for the current tax year and up to 10 prior years using Get Transcript Online or Form 4506-T.[7] However, when you use the “Get Transcript by Mail” or by phone, you’re limited to only the current tax year and returns processed during the past three years.[8]

Record of Account Transcript. This type of transcript combines the Tax Return Transcript and the Tax Account Transcript (the two transcript types described above) into one complete transcript. This transcript is available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years.[9]

Wage and Income Transcript. This type of transcript shows data from information returns the IRS receives on forms such as Forms W-2, 1099, 1098, and Form 5498, along with IRA Contribution Information. Note that the current tax year information may not be complete until July. You can get this transcript for up to 10 prior years.[10]

Verification of Non-filing Letter. This last transcript gives you proof that the IRS has no record of a filed Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ for the year requested. However, this transcript doesn’t show if you were required to file a return for that year. This letter is available after June 15th for the current tax year or anytime for the prior three tax years.[11]You’re required to use Form 4506-T if you need a letter for tax years older than the prior three years.

Remember that these transcripts aren’t photocopies of your return. If you need a true copy of your return, you must complete and send in Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, and the applicable fee.[12]

How do I request an IRS Transcript?

Again, you can get these different Form 1040-series transcript types online or by mail. If you want a copy of your prior year Adjusted Gross Income to e-file, select the tax return transcript type when making your request. But if you just want to see the amount you owe or verify payments you made within the last 18 months, you can simply view your tax account.[13]

Note that the method you used to file your tax return—whether you e-filed or mailed in a hard copy return and if you owed taxes—impacts your current year transcript availability.[14] That’s because the IRS typically processes e-filed returns within a few days, as opposed to mailed paper return, which can take much longer.[15]

Request Online

To use the online service to retrieve an IRS transcript, you must register with your social security number, your date of birth, filing status, and the mailing address from your latest tax return. You also need access to your email account, your personal account number from a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit or car loan, and a mobile phone with your name on the account.

Request by Mail

To request a transcript by mail, all you need your SSN or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), your date of birth, and your mailing address from your latest tax return.


IRS transcripts can be very helpful when apply for a loan and for a variety of other reasons. They are easy to obtain and typically are available for the current year and the prior three years.

For more information on this and other tax matters, consult the IRS or a qualified tax professional.


[1] IRS website, How to Get Tax Transcripts and Copies of Tax Returns from the IRS (Last reviewed or updated December 21, 2019). Retrieved at

[2] Tina Orem, NerdWallet, How to Get an IRS Transcript or Request Copies of Tax Returns in 2020 (March 4, 2020). Retrieved at

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] The Top Seven Questions About IRS Transcripts – and How They Can Help You, H&R Block. Retrieved at

[6] Id. It’s important to note that a secondary spouse on a joint return is required to use the “Get Transcript Online” process or Form 4506-T to request this transcript type. When using “Get Transcript by Mail” or by phone, the primary taxpayer on the return must make the request. 

[7] IRS website, Transcript Types and Ways to Order Them (Last reviewed or updated December 21, 2019). Retrieved at If you made estimated tax payments and/or applied an overpayment from a prior year return, you can request this transcript type “a few weeks after the beginning of the calendar year to confirm your payments prior to filing your tax return.” Id.

[8] IRS website, Transcript Types and Ways to Order Them, supra.

[9] Id.

[10] Id. See IRS website, Topic No. 159 How to Get a Transcript or Copy of Form W-2 (Last reviewed or updated February 7, 2020). Retrieved at See also Brian Streig, What is an IRS Wage and Income Transcript and why you need one? (August 19, 2018). Retrieved at (“If you’re wondering what the IRS does with this information, they build an annual file about you and then they compare what they have received with your tax return.”).

[11] Id.

[12] There’s a $50 fee for a photocopy of your tax return (unless you live in a federally declared disaster area), and it can take up to 75 days to process. IRS website, Transcript Types and Ways to Order Them, supra. See What’s An IRS Tax Transcript? H&R Block (February 2, 2015). Retrieved at See also IRS website, Topic No. 156 Copy or Transcript of Your Tax Return – How to Get One (Last reviewed or updated February 7, 2020). Retrieved at

[13] IRS website, Welcome to Get Transcript (Last reviewed or updated December 30, 2019). Retrieved at

[14] Id.

[15] Maria Tanski-Phillips, E-File vs. Paper File: The Advantages and Disadvantages You Must Consider, Patriot Software (February 14, 2019). Retrieved at

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