What is a tax transcript?

A summary of your tax return, with your adjusted gross income and other information necessary to prove your income

Derek Silva


Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Senior Editor & Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

Published|7 min read

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Key takeaways

  • Tax transcripts give a summary of your tax return, including your adjusted gross income

  • You may need one when you apply for a mortgage, auto loan, or college financial aid

  • Transcripts are free and easier to get from the IRS than actual copies of your tax return

  • Tax return transcripts, the most common kind, are available for the previous three tax years

A tax transcript is a free summary of your federal income tax return that includes your adjusted gross income (AGI) and other financial information a lender would need in order to confirm your income.

The primary situation where people use a tax transcript is to prove their income to lenders. You may need proof of income for an auto loan, mortgage, or other loan. You can also use one to fill out the FAFSA.

You can request a transcript from the IRS online, through the mail, or over the phone. The IRS can provide a transcript for the current tax year in addition to the previous three tax years. Some transcripts types are available for the last 10 years, if you request them online.

A transcript is not an exact copy of your tax return. If you need a copy of your return, fill out Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. This comes with a $50 application fee.

When to use a tax transcript

Most people use a transcript to provide proof of income for a mortgage, car loan, personal loan, or financial aid application for college. A lender or financial aid office often accepts a transcript instead of a copy of your return.

Transcripts are easier than exact copies, because transcripts are available online for free. Requesting a photocopy of your income return requires you to mail a physical form and there is a $50 fee.

You may also want to use a transcript to get exact information from a previous tax return. For example, you can check how much you made from 1099 forms five years ago.

Transcripts are also useful if you overpaid the previous year’s tax bill, or if you file estimated taxes. Say you made estimated tax payments for the current tax year but you don’t remember exactly how much you paid. You can request a free tax account transcript a few weeks after the beginning of the calendar year to confirm your payment amounts. Then you can adjust any payment you make on your tax return.

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The types of tax transcripts

There are five types of transcripts, but people are usually referring to a tax return transcript. All types are free and you can get them online or by mail from the IRS.

Tax return transcript

A tax return transcript shows most line items from your original Form 1040 (as well as your 1040A or 1040EZ for pre-2018 returns). This is the type of transcript most people use. It has enough information for most loan and financial aid applications, including your AGI plus whatever additional forms and schedules you filed. You can get one for the current tax year or the previous three tax years.

A tax return transcript does not show changes you made after filing your original federal return. So if you filed an amended tax return, the updated information will not be there. Consider a tax account or record of account transcript instead.

Tax account transcript

This shows only basic information, like the type of return, your marital status, AGI, taxable income, and types of payments you made. The transcript will also show changes you made to your return after you originally filed it.

You can get a tax account transcript for the current tax and for the previous 10 years. For a return more than three years old, you will need to request it online or use Form 4506-T. Transcript requests by mail or phone only give you access to the previous three years’ returns.

Record of account transcript

A record of account transcript combines all of the information in the two types above. You can get one for the previous three tax years.

Wage and income transcript

This shows information specifically on your wages, including Forms W-2, 1099, 1098 (mortgage interest statement), and Form 5498 (IRA contribution information). You can get a wage and income transcript for the current tax year and up to 10 years prior, but you may have to wait until July for the IRS to finish processing current-year tax information.

Verification of non-filing letter

While not actually a transcript, you can get this through the same process. It’s a letter of proof that the IRS did not receive a Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ for the year that you request. This letter isn’t available until after June 15 for the current tax year. You can get a letter for the previous three tax years online, but you need to fill out and mail Form 4506-T if you want a letter for an older return.

Note that the letter won’t indicate whether or not you actually need to file a tax return for a given year. It will simply confirm whether or not the IRS has received one from you.

How to get a tax transcript

The IRS can provide you with a transcript for the current tax year’s tax return and the three years prior. You can request a transcript online, by mailing Form 4506-T, or over the phone. Some types of transcripts are available for the previous 10 tax years, but only if you request them online or if you mail Form 4506-T.

Get a tax transcript online

To get a transcript online, use the Get Transcript tool from the IRS. The IRS estimates the process is about 15 minutes, because you will also need to register for an IRS online services account if you don’t already have one. An account allows you to request, view, download, and print tax transcripts.

You also need to provide personal information to verify your identity:

  • Your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)

  • Your date of birth

  • The filing status and mailing address from your most recent tax return

  • The personal account number from either a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit (HELOC), student loan, or car loan

  • A mobile phone (otherwise you will need to get an activation code in the mail)

  • An email address

The IRS uses Experian to verify your account number. If you currently have a credit freeze through Experian, you will need to lift it before creating an IRS online account.

If you are using a credit card to verify your identity, you will need to enter the last eight numbers of your card. The IRS doesn’t accept American Express, debit cards, or corporate card accounts. With a student loan, you will need to enter the student loan account number provided on your statement. This may be a mix of numbers and letters, but don’t include symbols.

Request a tax transcript through the mail

You can request a tax transcript by mail through the IRS website. You can also fill out the physical Form 4506-T and mail it to the IRS. Phone requests are available by calling 1-800-908-9946.

The information you will need to provide includes your SSN or ITIN, date of birth, and the mailing address from your most recent tax return.

The transcript should arrive in five to 10 calendar days at the current mailing address the IRS has on file for you. If you need to submit an updated address, contact the IRS.

If you are the secondary spouse on a joint tax return, you can only request a tax transcript online. The primary tax filer is the only one who can make mail or phone requests.

When you can request a transcript of the current tax year

Due to IRS processing times, there may be a waiting period if you’re requesting a transcript for the current tax year. How you filed your return determines how long you need to wait until a transcript is available to you.

The refund/tax bill status of your returnIf you filed electronicallyIf you filed a paper return
You got a tax refund or had no balance due.Wait 2-3 weeks after submitting your return to request a transcript.Wait 6-8 weeks after you mailed your return to request a transcript.
You had a tax bill and paid in full with your return.Wait 2-3 weeks after submitting your return to request a transcript.Wait until late June; the IRS will process your return in mid-June.
You had a tax bill and paid in full after submitting the return.Wait 3-4 weeks after full payment before requesting a transcript.Wait until late June; the IRS will process your return in mid-June.
You had a tax bill and didn’t pay in full.Wait until late May; the IRS will process your return in mid-May.Wait until late June; the IRS will process your return in mid-June.

How to send a transcript to someone else

While it was possible in the past, you can no longer request a transcript and have it delivered directly to a third party. This is a safety precaution from the IRS to prevent fraud and identity theft. Similarly, transcripts now partially obscure your SSN and other identifying information, just in case you lose them.

When you’re getting a transcript to send to a lender or financial aid officer, they may give you a 10-digit Customer File Number. You can include the number on your IRS request, and then it will be printed on the transcript. This allows the third-party to quickly match your SSN to your account. The Customer File Number is a relatively new feature from the IRS and is mostly designed to help lenders who request a high volume of transcripts.

If you are working with a tax preparer and they need a copy of an unmasked wage and income transcript in order to prepare your return, either you or the preparer will need to call the IRS. The IRS will then send you one in the mail.

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