When it comes to hanging on to your past tax returns, how long is long enough? According the IRS, individual tax payers should keep their records for three to seven years. While this applies to most of the tax payers, there may be a situation where you wished you had kept the documents longer.
Old tax returns (along with their supporting documents) can protect your retirement and social security benefits in case of a discrepancy. They can also prove where you worked during your lifetime. And in the case of my dad who was audited some 10 years ago, past records help prove the original purchase value and depreciation schedule of the farm and equipment he had bought 30 years earlier.
These are all good reason to hold onto your tax returns. So what happens if you’ve lost your returns through divorce, a fire or flood, or they simply vanished? Here are three ways to track down back copies of old Federal Income Tax Returns.
Check with your accountant
If you use a CPA or tax prep service, your problem is easily solved. Most accountants keep copies of client tax returns for five to seven years with some agencies storing them even longer. Checking with the accountant is a great place to start the search for copies of past tax returns and supporting documents.
The State Tax Commission
Another place to locate a copy of your Federal income tax return is at the State Tax Commission. When I lost one of my state returns a few years ago, I discovered quite by accident that this agency retains both our Federal and State returns for up to five years with no charge for copies. Since policies can differ from state to state, do call first to verify if the Federal return is included with the State.
Of course, you can always order an exact copy of your tax return and all the supporting documents from the IRS using Form 4506 “Request for Copy of Tax Return.” The form must be mailed to the address listed in the instructions along with a $50 fee for each tax return wanted. You will be able to order copies of your current year’s tax return and the previous six years. (Take note that you’ll need a separate Form 4506 for each tax return requested).
If you need returns that are older than six years, you are out of luck. By law, the IRS is required to destroy all tax returns that are older than seven years.
More by this contributor:
Ignoring an IRS tax bill? Why it’s never a good idea
Why I won’t pay an IRS tax bill with a credit card.
Resources: IRS Topic 156: Copy of Your Tax Return