Tax Time Is Around the Corner! Are You Ready?

Tax time is just around the corner, and if you are like most taxpayers, you are finding yourself with the ominous chore of pulling together the records for your tax appointment. The difficulty of this task depends upon how well you have maintained your tax records throughout the year. No matter how good your record keeping was, arriving at your tax appointment fully prepared will allow more time to:

  • Consider every possible legal deduction;
  • Evaluate which income reporting methods and deductions are best suited to your situation;
  • Explore current law changes that are affecting your tax status; and
  • Talk about tax planning alternatives that could reduce your future tax liability.

New for 2018 – There are a number of new complications this year, including:

  • To combat tax fraud, the IRS is requiring all tax preparers to verify their clients’ identity with a government picture ID, although there is an exception for clients if the preparer has had a multi-year business relationship with a client AND has previously verified the client’s identity with a government picture ID. Since that was not previously required, it will be necessary for all clients this year, so be sure to bring a picture ID (also a requirement for a spouse) to your appointment.
  • Although the federal government changed its tax rules with the tax reform, many states with state income tax, such as California, have not conformed to the federal changes, which means a separate set of rules may apply to your state and federal tax returns.
  • The tax reform added a new 20% deduction for pass-through income from business activities. In some cases, the computation can be very complicated and will take additional time.

Choosing Your Best Alternatives – The tax law allows a variety of methods of handling income and deductions on your return. The choices you make as you prepare your return will often affect not only the current year but also future returns. Topics these choices relate to include:

  • Sales of property – If you’re receiving payments on a sales contract over a period of years, you can sometimes choose between reporting the whole gain in the year you sell or over a period of time as you receive payments from the buyer.
  • Depreciation – You’re able to deduct the cost of your investment into certain business properties. You can either depreciate the costs over a number of years or, in certain cases, deduct them all in one year.

Where to Begin – Preparation for your tax appointment should begin in January. Right after the New Year, set up a safe storage location, such as a file drawer, cupboard, or safe. As you receive pertinent records, file them right away, before you forget or lose them. Make this a habit, and you’ll find your job a lot easier on your appointment date. Other general suggestions to prepare for your appointment include:

  • Segregate your records according to income and expense categories. File medical expense receipts in one envelope or folder, mortgage interest payment records in another, charitable donations in a third, etc. If you receive an organizer or questionnaire to complete before your appointment, fill out every section that applies to you. (Important: Read all explanations, and follow the instructions carefully. By design, organizers remind you of transactions you may otherwise miss.)
  • Call attention to any foreign bank account, foreign financial account, or foreign trust in which you have an ownership interest, signature authority, or controlling stake. We also need to know about foreign inheritances and ownership of foreign assets. In short, bring any foreign financial dealings to our attention so we know if you will have any special reporting requirements. The penalties for not making and submitting required reports can be severe.
  • If you acquired your health insurance through a government marketplace, you will receive Form 1095-A, issued by the marketplace, which will include information needed to complete your return. In addition, you will need to provide proof of insurance to avoid a penalty or qualify for one of the many exemptions from the penalty. If you received a hardship penalty exemption from the marketplace, you will have been issued an exemption certificate number (ECN), which must be included on your tax return. The 1095-A and ECN documentation need to be included with the other material you bring to your appointment. If your insurance coverage was through an employer and the employer issued a Form 1095-B, Form 1095-C, or substitute form detailing your coverage, bring it to the appointment.
  • Keep your annual income statements separate from your other documents (e.g., W-2s from employers; 1099s from banks, stockbrokers, etc.; and K-1s from partnerships). Be sure to take these documents to your appointment, including the instructions for K-1s!
  • Write down your questions so you don’t forget to ask them at the appointment. Review last year’s return. Compare your income on that return to your income for the current year. A dividend from ABC stock on your prior-year return may remind you that you sold ABC this year and need to report the sale, or that you haven’t yet received the current year’s 1099-DIV form.
  • Make sure you have Social Security numbers for all of your dependents. The IRS checks these carefully and can deny deductions and credits for returns filed without them.
  • Compare deductions from last year with your records for this year. Did you forget anything?
  • Collect any other documents and financial papers that you’re puzzled about. Prepare to bring these to your appointment so you can ask about them.

Accuracy Even for Details – Make sure you review personal data to ensure the greatest accuracy possible in all detail on your return. Check names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and occupations on last year’s return. Note any changes for this year. Although your telephone number and e-mail address aren’t required on your return, they are always helpful should questions occur during return preparation.

Marital Status Change – If your marital status changed during the year, you lived apart from your spouse, or your spouse died during the year, list the dates and details. Bring copies of prenuptial, legal separation, divorce, or property settlement agreements, if any, to your appointment. If your spouse passed away during the year, you should have a copy of his or her trust agreement or will available for review.

Dependents – If you have qualifying dependents, you will need to provide the following for each (if you previously provided us with items 1 through 3, you will not need to supply them again):

  1. First and last name
  2. Social security number
  3. Birth date
  4. Number of months living in your home
  5. Their income amounts (both taxable and nontaxable). If your dependent is your child over age 18, note how long the child was a full-time student during the year.

For anyone other than your child to qualify as your dependent, they must pass five strict dependency tests. If you think one or more other individuals qualify as your dependents (but you aren’t sure), tally the amounts you provided toward their support vs. the amounts they provided. This will simplify the final decision.

Some Transactions Deserve Special Treatment – Certain transactions require special treatment on your tax return. It’s a good idea to invest a little extra preparation effort when you have had the following types of transactions:

  • Sales of Stock or Other Property: All sales of stocks, bonds, securities, real estate, and any other property need to be reported on your return, even if you had no profit or loss. List each sale, and have purchase and sale documents available for each transaction.
    The purchase date, sale date, cost, and selling price must all be noted on your return. Make sure this information is contained on the documents you bring to your appointment.
  • Gifted or Inherited Property: If you sell property that was given to you, you need to determine when and for how much the original owner purchased it. If you sell property you inherited, you will need to know the original owner’s death date and the property’s value at that time. You may be able to find this on estate tax returns or in probate documents; otherwise, ask the executor.
  • Reinvested Dividends: You may have sold stock or a mutual fund for which you participated in a dividend reinvestment program. If so, you will need to have records of each stock purchase made with the reinvested dividends.
  • Sale of Home: The tax law provides special breaks for home sale gains, and you may be able to exclude up to $500,000 of the gain from your primary home if you file a married joint return and meet certain ownership, occupancy, and holding period requirements. The maximum exclusion is $250,000 for others. Since the cost of improvements made on your home can also be used to reduce any gains, it is good practice to keep a record of them. The exclusion of gains applies only to a primary residence, so keeping a record of improvements to other property, such as your second home, is important. Be sure to bring a copy of the sale documents (usually the final closing escrow statement).
  • Purchase of a Home: Be sure to bring a copy of the final closing escrow statement if you purchased a home.
  • Vehicle Purchase: If you purchased a new plug-in electric car (or cars) this year, you may qualify for a special credit. Please bring the purchase statement to the appointment with you.
  • Home Energy–Related Expenditures: If you installed a solar, geothermal, or wind power-generation system in your home or second home, please bring the details of the purchase and manufacturer’s credit qualification certification to your appointment. You may qualify for a substantial energy-related tax credit.
  • Identity Theft: Identity theft is rampant and can impact your tax filings. If you have reason to believe that your identity has been stolen, please contact this firm as soon as possible. The IRS provides special procedures for filing if you have had your identity stolen.
  • Car Expenses for Business: If you used one or more automobiles for business, list the expenses of each business vehicle separately. When claiming vehicle-related business expenses, the government requires your total mileage, business miles, and commuting miles for each business vehicle to be reported on your return, so be prepared to have those numbers available. Job-related vehicle expenses are not deductible by employees on their federal returns in years 2018 through 2025. However, some states, including California, still allow them. So if you have unreimbursed employee business expenses, continue to provide the information noted above in case the deduction is allowed for state taxes, and if you were reimbursed for mileage through an employer, know the reimbursement amount and whether it was included in your W-2.
  • Charitable Donations: You must substantiate cash contributions (regardless of amount) with a bank record or written communication from the charity showing the name of the charitable organization, date, and amount.
    Unreceipted cash donations put into a “Christmas kettle,” church collection plate, etc., are not deductible. For clothing and household contributions, donated items must generally be in good or better condition, and items such as undergarments and socks are not deductible. You must keep a record of each item contributed that indicates the name and address of the charity, the date and location of the contribution, and a reasonable description of the property. Contributions valued under $250 and dropped off at an unattended location do not require a receipt. For contributions above $500, the record must also include when and how the property was acquired and your cost basis in the property. For contributions above $5,000 and other types of contributions, please call this office for additional requirements.

If you have questions about assembling your tax data prior to your appointment, please call us.

Twelve Common Tax Problems to Avoid

If you’re one of those who gets worked up over filing your tax return, there are specific steps you can take to help ease the struggle and avoid the most common tax issues that are reported each year.

Here are the top 12 tax issues, broken down into categories for business owners and individual taxpayers, and how everybody can minimize their impact this year.

If you own your own business:
1. Avoid penalties and fines by understanding the rules about deductions.
Though tax deductions are a great way to minimize taxes when they’re used the right way, they are frequently abused and overused. The whole point of deductions is to provide businesses the ability to eliminate taxes for items they purchased in the furtherance of their business. Though this includes capital expenditures, client gifts, and business travel, it does not mean that you can include expenses that you incur while talking about your business while you’re on vacation with your family. The IRS has published rules about how much of each expense can be deducted, what type of expense can be deducted and under what circumstance. If you include something that is questionable, you’re going to be asked to justify it, and if you can’t, you’re going to end up worse off than if you hadn’t made an attempt in the first place.

2. Failing to keep track of business expenses that can be deducted.
The flip side of people try to game the system by taking expenses to which they’re not entitled is people failing to deduct expenses that they could have because they’re not careful about keeping track. This frequently happens when people don’t have a credit card or account that is dedicated specifically to their business expenses, or when cash is used when traveling or attending business meetings. When you don’t deduct legitimate expenses, you’re cheating yourself out of tax savings, so start keeping all receipts, and talk to a tax professional so that you understand exactly what you can write off, and what you can’t.

Individual taxpayer problems:
3. Failing to choose a reputable professional tax preparer.
It’s nice of your cousin or next-door neighbor to offer to help, and you might save money by going to a storefront tax preparer that claims they will do the whole job quickly and at a low cost, but an awful lot of taxpayers end up in big trouble as a result of these types of offers. Whether the issue is incompetence or fraud, plenty of people are finding themselves facing penalties and fines or having their refund money stolen as a result of choosing the wrong tax preparer. Do your homework and be willing to spend the money to have your return prepared by a legitimate professional. The things to watch out for include promises of specific refund amounts prior to reviewing your documentation, fees that are based on the amount of your refund, and fly-by-night operations that appear right before tax season and then are gone on April 16th. If you do find a fraudulent tax preparer has victimized you, contact the IRS and attorney right away who will pursue justice and act as your advocate.

4. Filing after the deadline.
If you were late in filing last year, you had plenty of company – the IRS reported that almost 45 million taxpayers waited until April. But filing late is a mistake. You are likely to end up paying extra money in fines and penalties, and the later you are, the more likely you are to make errors that will make the entire process take longer and may lead to audits and delays. More importantly, if your lateness is a recurring theme and you still haven’t gotten in paperwork from previous years, it affects the accuracy of your current return and may impact your ability to get any refund or credit that you’re owed.

5. Failure to file a return at all.
Plenty of people disregard the tax laws and don’t submit a return. Many of them may not actually owe any taxes, while others reason that since they can’t afford to pay what they owe, they’re better off not submitting anything. This is absolutely wrong. If you are anticipating a problem with submitting the tax that you owe, you can file an installment agreement request that will help you set up a schedule of periodic payments instead of submitting the amount in full at tax time. This is a much better option than not filing, as even though you may have to pay some interest or penalties, they won’t be as punishing as the fees you’ll pay for failure to file a return. You can also choose to file an application for an automatic extension, which gives you more time to get the documentation together, if not the payments. Again, penalties and interest rates are much lower when you avail yourself of this option rather than failing to file.

6. Simple mathematical errors
Remember when you were a kid in math class and you’d get a quiz back with mistakes that you’d have spotted if you’d just double checked? Same is true with your taxes. Take the time to go back over your math before you sign on the dotted line or send your return in. It just takes a few extra minutes, and it can save a lot of time and aggravation. Alternatively, use a professional tax preparer and then you don’t have to worry about it at all.

7. Administrative errors
Just as you need to check that you’ve done your math computations correctly, you also need to take the time to take a second look at the forms that you’re filling out to make sure that you’ve filled in every box, used all the appropriate forms, and filled in your information correctly. You’d be amazed at how many people transpose the numbers of their social security number or whose handwriting is so bad that it can’t be read by the IRS and gets sent back. Take your time, be careful and do it right to save yourself a headache in the future. A few areas worth double-checking include:

  • Social Security Number
  • Bank Account Numbers and Routing Numbers
  • Signature and Date Lines

8. Not staying current with updates to tax laws.
Every year, there are new updates to the tax code that can make a big difference, and every year there are taxpayers who fail to take advantage of them because they simply weren’t aware that they existed. If you’re going to do your taxes yourself, take the time to stay up-to-date. Alternatively, you can work with a tax professional: part of their job is to know all the new laws and apply them to your best advantage.

9. Don’t use the wrong filing status.
Single. Head of Household. Married filing jointly. Married filing single. It can be very confusing to know which benefits you most, and choosing wrong can make an enormous difference. There are a lot of things that married couples are entitled to if they file jointly, and a lot of disadvantages to filing single. Take the time, do the math so that you know you’re doing the right thing.

10. Clutter may be bad, but you should hold on to your old tax returns.
No matter how much you try to keep it simple and purge old paperwork, your past tax return is one thing you really need to hold on to in case the IRS comes back and asks questions or you realize that you’re entitled to a refund if you file an amended return. Having the paperwork handy means you can give it to attorneys, mortgage brokers, accountants and the IRS itself in case they ask for it or if providing it would help your situation.

11. Learn about and take advantage of every potential deduction
Of all the painful mistakes that taxpayers make, overpaying is at the top of everybody’s list. What could be worse than giving the government more of your hard-earned money than you needed to? The best way to avoid this mistake is to go through the lists of possible deductions and write down every one you might be able to take, then see if you can use it.

12. Not using the right tax forms for your needs or status.
Though most people are familiar with the 1040 form, it’s not necessarily the right one for everyone. While the 1040 works for those who itemize or who own their own business, people who are W-2 employees without a lot of complicating factors may be better off using the 1040EZ form. Likewise, you need to make sure that there aren’t mistakes on any of the paperwork that you’re handing in, whether it’s your W-2 or information from any of your banks. Finally, many people are taking advantage of electronic filing to get their returns in on time and get their refunds more quickly, and if you’re doing that too, make sure that you’ve input the correct.

If there are errors on your W-2 Forms or other financial forms, make sure you address them sooner rather than later, or else the IRS will become involved. If you’re filing electronically, double check every digit of your information to avoid delays.

What if you can’t avoid a tax issue?
No matter how hard you try, at some point, you may find yourself facing one or more of the issues cited above (or something entirely different that we haven’t included). If that happens to you, contact us immediately for expert professional help.

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

This year’s wildfires, record rains, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and potential for earthquakes should all act as reminders that you should be prepared for a disaster. Sure, it will take some effort on your part and you may never be affected by a disaster, but if you are, you will sure wish you had been prepared. It can become a nightmare, whether it impacts you personally or your business.

Business Owners – If you are a business owner, unexpected events can have a devastating effect on your business. You need to be protected from any number of natural and unnatural events, such as fire, computer failure and illness or the loss of key staff, all of which can make it difficult or even impossible to continue day-to-day operations.

Good planning can help you take steps to minimize the impact of a disaster and protect your business. The following recommendations can help your business cope with an unforeseen calamity.

By identifying possible disasters that may affect you and your business, you may be able to minimize the risks and losses that might occur. A well-thought-out business continuity plan will identify an action plan, safety concerns, applicable computer back-ups and alternative operational headquarters. It will also provide a road map back to normal activities by highlighting the points of contact for insurance and emergency relief way ahead of time.

How will you escape? Where will you meet up? How will you communicate? Map out and practice escape routes from your building. Familiarize yourself with the local authorities and emergency radio signals announced at the time of a disaster. What happens if you survive the disaster but your biggest supplier does not? Develop backup vendors and relationships ahead of time. Don’t forget that many employees will have families to care for and that their homes may be damaged or destroyed by the disaster. Have you stockpiled water, batteries, first aid kits and food in case emergency services are delayed?

As many realize after the fact, they are not insured for many natural disasters under their existing business policy. You may need to add or increase coverage, if it is available. Check with your carrier for details on your coverage.

Different types of businesses have different computer system needs, and those systems need to be backed up in case an event damages or causes the loss of the business’s computer capabilities. Backups are easy with the current online technology. Many businesses now have outside vendors that host and back up their computer systems for them. Inquire about whether they have redundant backup systems and request information on their emergency plans. In fact, in many cases, businesses now have their entire computer systems and data online, and these backups function from anywhere, from any computer.

If the disaster is only temporary and shuts down the electrical grid to your business, a generator may be a sound investment. The generator can power your computer system, equipment, refrigerators and other crucial items.

Family and Home – Just like a business, your family needs to have an emergency plan. They may be in different locations, such as school, work and home, when a disaster strikes. You need to have plans in place for where to meet if separated and a pre-planned evacuation route or action plan for unexpected disasters. The pre-planned evacuation route should avoid areas that can flood or are dangerous. It is good practice to never let the fuel level in your car(s) get below half-full, or let your electric car be less than half-charged, because the area may lose power, and gas stations may also be damaged by the disaster or run out of fuel.

While many people these days use credit or debit cards or other electronic payment methods in lieu of cash for their purchases, it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand for times when a disaster causes the electricity to be out for an extended period of time. Without power, vendors won’t be able to process non-cash payments.

Is your insurance coverage appropriate? Do you have supplies of batteries, flashlights, water, food, medications and first aid supplies in case of an emergency? And don’t forget to consider the needs of your pets during and after an emergency.

Records – We now live in a digital world, and if you are computer savvy, an easy way to keep your records out of harm’s way is to store digital copies of the documents on a remote server (i.e., in the cloud). It may cost a few bucks a month, but the digital files will be there when you need them, regardless of what happens to your home or business location. If you aren’t a fan of cloud storage, you should maintain an up-to-date backup of your computer files on an external hard drive or thumb drive(s), preferably with a copy stored in a secure location away from your home or office that is not likely to be affected by the same disaster.

Most financial institutions these days provide all of their documents digitally, and you can store those documents on your remote server or even retrieve them from the financial institutions’ websites. However, before relying on the financial institutions, make sure they retain your records for long enough to meet your needs.

For example, you generally need to keep individual tax records for at least 3 years after the tax return’s due date for that tax year or the date when you filed the return, if it was filed after the due date. For example, your 2017 return was due April 17, 2018. If you filed it on or before April 17, the statute of limitations for the 2017 return would not run out until April 15, 2021. So, you would have to keep the records for the 2017 tax return until then. (The statute of limitations runs for 4 years for some states, and some records need to be kept longer for both federal and state purposes.) If some of your files are not already available digitally, you can always scan the originals to create digital copies.

Another very important thing to everyone is family photos. Modern-day pictures are digital, so you can save them on a remote server, or many photo services will save them online for you. For the older important ones, you can scan them or take digital pictures of them with your camera.

Another important document to have is a list of your home’s and business facility’s contents for insurance purposes. The quick and easy way is to take a video or pictures throughout the house or business showing the furnishings and equipment. A better method is to take the pictures or video and back them up with a detailed list of the items in each room.

Disaster Scams – Whenever there is a disaster, lowlifes show up and try to scam generous individuals out of money intended to go to victims of the disaster. Don’t you be another victim of the disaster – watch out for scammers claiming to represent charitable organizations, who will pocket the donations for themselves instead. Besides fraudsters soliciting on behalf of bogus charities, some so-called charities aren’t entirely honest about how they use contributions.

You may receive phone calls, emails, snail mail or appeals on social networking sites for donations to help the victims of the most recent disaster. Some of these appeals may come from fraudsters and not legitimate charities. Unfortunately, this happens often after natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

So before writing a check or giving your credit card number to a charity that you aren’t familiar with, check them out so you can be assured that your donation will end up in the right hands. Follow these tips to make sure that your charitable contributions will actually go to the cause you are supporting:

  • Donate to charities that you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for, and what percentages of your donation will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get clear answers – or if you don’t like the answers you get – then consider donating to a different organization.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information – such as your credit card or bank account number – unless you know for sure that the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash. You can’t be sure that the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be from a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • If a donation request comes from a charity that claims to be helping a local community group (for example, police or firefighters), ask members of that group if they have heard of the charity and if it is actually providing financial support.
  • Check out the charity’s reputation online using Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or other online watchdogs.

Self-Help Publications:

Recovering and Government Assistance
The following government agencies may provide assistance:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) – The SBA provides low-interest loans to businesses, homeowners and renters who are victims of a disaster. It even provides loans to replace or repair damaged or destroyed clothing, appliances, furnishings and automobiles. For more information, visit its website at: www.sba.gov.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – Disaster assistance is provided in the form of money or direct assistance to individuals, families and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is meant to help with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. For more information, visit its website at: www.fema.gov.

Since many disasters strike without warning, being prepared can help your business and family to recover more quickly from a catastrophic emergency. Take the necessary steps to ensure that both you and your business are well protected.

Please give us a call if you have questions or if we can provide any other assistance.

How Long Should You Hold On To Old Tax Records?

This is a common question: How long must taxpayers keep copies of their tax returns and supporting documents?

Generally, taxpayers should hold on to their tax records for at least 3 years after the due date of the return to which those records apply. However, if the original return was filed later than the due date, including if the taxpayer received an extension, the actual filing date is substituted for the due date. A few other circumstances can require taxpayers to keep these records for longer than 3 years.

The statute of limitations in many states is 1 year longer than in the federal statute. This is because the IRS provides state tax authorities with federal audit results. The extra year gives the states adequate time to assess taxes based on any federal tax adjustments.

In addition to the potential confusion caused by the state statutes, the federal 3-year rule has a number of exceptions that cloud the recordkeeping issue:

  • The assessment period is extended to 6 years if a taxpayer omits more than 25% of his or her gross income on a tax return.
  • The IRS can assess additional taxes without regard to time limits if a taxpayer (a) doesn’t file a return, (b) files a false or fraudulent return to evade taxation, or (c) deliberately tries to evade tax in any other manner.
  • The IRS has unlimited time to assess additional tax when a taxpayer files an unsigned return.

If none of these exceptions apply to you, then for federal purposes, you can probably discard most of your tax records that are more than 3 years old; however, you may need to add a year or more if you live in a state with a statute of longer duration.

Examples: Susan filed her 2014 tax return before the due date of April 15, 2015. She will be thus able to safely dispose of most of her records after April 15, 2018. On the other hand, Don filed his 2014 return on June 1, 2015. He needs to keep his records at least until June 1, 2018. In both cases, the taxpayers may opt to keep their records a year or more beyond those dates if their states have statutes of limitations that are longer than 3 years. 

Important note: Although you can discard backup records, do not throw away the filed copies of any tax returns or W-2s. Often, these returns provide data that can be used in future tax-return calculations or to prove the amounts of property transactions, social security benefits, and so on. You should also keep certain records for longer than 3 years:

  • Stock acquisition data. If you own stock in a corporation, keep the purchase records for at least 4 years after selling the stock. The purchase data is needed to prove the amount of profit (or loss) that you had on the sale.
  • Statements for stocks and mutual funds with reinvested dividends. Many taxpayers use the dividends that they receive from a stock or mutual fund to buy more shares of the same stock or fund. These reinvested amounts add to the basis of the property and reduce the gain when it is eventually sold. Keep these statements for at least 4 years after final sale.
  • Tangible property purchase and improvement records. Keep records of home, investment, rental-property or business-property acquisitions, as well as all related capital improvements, for at least 4 years after the underlying property is sold.

Tax return copies from prior years are also useful for the following:

  • Verifying Income. Lenders require copies of past tax returns on loan applications.
  • Validate Identity. Taxpayers who use tax-filing software products for the first time may need to provide their adjusted gross incomes from prior years’ tax returns to verify their identities.

The IRS Can Provide Copies Of Prior-Year Returns —Taxpayers who have misplaced a copy of a prior year’s return can order a tax transcript from the IRS. This transcript summarizes the return information and includes AGI. This service is free and is available for the most current tax year once the IRS has processed the return. These transcripts are also available for the past 6 years’ returns. When ordering a transcript, always plan ahead, as online and phone orders typically take 5 to 10 days to fulfill. Mail orders of transcripts can take 30 days (75 days for full tax returns). There are three ways to order a transcript:

  • Online Using Get Transcript. Use Get Transcript Online on IRS.gov to view, print or download a copy for any of the transcript types. Users must authenticate their identities using the Secure Access process. Taxpayers who are unable to register or who prefer not to use Get Transcript Online may use Get Transcript by Mail to order a tax return or account transcript.
  • By phone. The number is 800-908-9946.
  • By mail. Taxpayers can complete and send either Form 4506-T or Form 4506T-EZ to the IRS to receive a transcript by mail.

Those who need an actual copy of a tax return can get one for the current tax year and for as far back as 6 years. The fee is $50 per copy. Complete Form 4506 to request a copy of a tax return and mail that form to the appropriate IRS office (which is listed on the form).

If you have questions about which records you should retain and which ones you can dispose of, please give us a call.