Are you planning to file your tax return electronically? Be sure to have last year’s tax return (or tax info) handy if you’re filing for the first time or if your software requires validation of electronic signatures. But if you don’t, there’s no need to panic: you can get much of the needed information by using tools from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The easiest way to get your prior-year tax records is to use the “Get Transcript Online” tool or its related option, “Get Transcript by Mail.” Why go online to get the info? The run-up to (and the few days after) Presidents Day is the busiest time of the year for the IRS. It can take over an hour to get through to the IRS by calling if you get through at all. The online tools are faster and more convenient.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to keep copies of previously-filed tax returns: you should typically hold onto your tax returns and supporting documentation until the statute of limitations runs for filing your tax returns or filing for your tax refund. For most taxpayers, that is three years (for more on how long to keep records and statute of limitations, click here). Many taxpayers think it’s only necessary to keep those documents in case of an audit, but information from the prior year’s return is required to validate some electronic signatures for taxpayers who are e-filing. While returning users may have their information transferred automatically on the same software, taxpayers who have switched tax software programs may be required to enter information, like last year’s income, manually.
If you’re not familiar with how electronic signature and signature validation work, here’s what you need to know:
- Your electronic signature is how you acknowledge that the information on the tax return is true and accurate.
- When you sign your tax return electronically, you are asked to create a four-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN), also known as a Self-Select PIN. To validate the PIN, you have to enter your birthdate and either their adjusted gross income (AGI) from the previous year or last year’s PIN.
- If you have a copy of last year’s tax return, this is easy. On the 2017 tax return, you can find your AGI on line 37 on your form 1040 (line 21 on your form 1040-A or line 4 on your form 1040-EZ).
- If you don’t have a copy of last year’s tax return handy, you can get the needed information from the IRS by using the Get Transcript Online tool or Get Transcript by Mail (you can also call 1.800.908.9946). If you choose the mail option, be prepared to wait up to five to 10 days for delivery.
The Get Transcript Online tool is easy to use. When you navigate to the transcript page on the IRS website, you’ll be prompted to enter your username if you’ve already created an account, or if you’re new, you can create an account:
Once you’ve entered your credentials, you’ll need to verify that you are who you say you are by entering the security code sent to your cell phone. If you don’t have access to text messaging, you can get the code with a call.
After that, you’ll be asked to enter the reason for your transcript request; this helps the IRS direct you towards the best transcript option for you since there many different kinds.
From there, it’s just a few more clicks to download your information.
If you have an Identity Protection (IP) PIN – which is different from a PIN – you should also enter it when prompted by the software. An IP PIN is a unique six-digit sequence that helps the IRS verify a taxpayer’s identity. When you have an IP PIN, it prevents someone else from filing a tax return with your Social Security Number (SSN) since returns that don’t include the correct IP PIN may be booted back. If a tax return is e-filed with your SSN and an incorrect or missing IP PIN, the IRS e-file system will reject the return until you submit the return with the correct IP PIN or you file a return on paper. If a tax return is filed on paper with your SSN but an incorrect or missing IP PIN, the IRS will delay processing the return, including any refund due, while they determine the validity of the return.
These security measures are intended to help keep your personal and tax information safe this tax season. Remember that the IRS will not send your transcript information via email or send you to a website that is not the official IRS website (www.irs.gov).