The Top Seven Questions About IRS Transcripts – and How They Can Help You


There’s one simple answer for getting all your records of tax filings, income, and account activity from the IRS: tax transcripts. But it’s not that simple at all.

Many people have never heard of a tax transcript – much less understand why they may want to access theirs. And because IRS transcripts aren’t exactly easy reading material, people get confused after they have their transcripts in hand.

Here are the most common questions and answers to help you understand IRS transcripts.

1. Why would I want to get my tax transcript?

Most of the time, people use tax transcripts to:

  • Understand their status with the IRS
  • Get their income history
  • Verify their tax return information for a third party, such as a lender or for 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
  • Research their account if they’re under IRS audit

2. Who can get transcripts online?

Several years ago, the IRS gave individual taxpayers online access to their IRS transcripts. If you set up an account on the IRS Get Transcript tool, you can view the five types of transcripts right away. Business taxpayers can call the IRS at (800) 829-4933.

Learn more about researching your IRS account.

3. What are the five types of transcripts?

1. An account transcript provides an overview of your account.

It shows filings, extensions, withholding, credits and any follow-up transactions on your account, including penalties, assessments, IRS inquiries and other account activity.

Basically, most IRS actions on your account will appear on this transcript.

2. A return transcript shows most lines from the original tax return as it was processed.

Changes made to the return after it was processed are not reflected, including any amended returns you may have filed. If you need a copy of your tax return for any reason, such as a loan or financial aid application, this is the transcript to use.

3. A record of account transcript is simply a combination of the account and return transcripts.

The IRS makes this available because it shows the big picture, from your original return filed to any changes made to the return after processing. This transcript is especially helpful if you want to file an amended return because it will show the original return information plus any indicators of changes made to the return (such as prior amended returns or audit adjustments), which are required to complete an accurate amended return.

4. A wage and income transcript provides a listing of information statements (Forms W-2, 1099) that show income reported to the IRS under your Taxpayer Identification Number.

You can use this transcript to help with your research to accurately file a late or extended tax return, verify employment, or keep a personal record of income.

5. A verification of nonfiling letter is a transcript that is automatically produced when the IRS doesn’t have your return on file or hasn’t yet processed your filed return.

Many taxpayers use this transcript to apply for public benefits, such as low-income housing, which requires proof of nonfiling.

4. How many years are available for each type of transcript?

The IRS generates separate transcripts for each tax year. In the IRS Get Transcript tool, each transcript is available as a separate link, listed by tax year. Here are the number of years available for each type of IRS transcript:

  • Account transcripts: Current tax year and three prior tax years. Older account transcripts can appear if there has been activity within the past three years on the account.
  • Return transcripts: Current tax year and three prior tax years. If you don’t see a return transcript available for download, it likely means that you didn’t file a return for that year, or that the IRS hasn’t processed the return.
  • Record of account transcripts: Current tax year, five prior years, and any years with recent activity, such as a payment or notice.
  • Wage and income transcripts: Current tax year and nine prior tax years. In mid-May, wage and income transcripts become available for the previous tax year. For example, 2013 wage and income transcripts became available in May 2014. The May transcript will have most of the items registered for the last tax year.
  • Verification of nonfiling letter: Current tax year and three prior tax years.

5. Why don’t my tax return transcript and account transcript show the return I filed?

Your filed return will be reflected on your transcripts only after the IRS is finished processing the return. Returns usually post to account transcripts in about one to two weeks. Return transcripts take longer, especially if you owe taxes with the return.

6. What do the transaction codes mean on my account transcript?

Transcript transaction codes represent actions on your IRS account and provide a literal description of the action. For routine filers with no post-filing compliance activity, account transcripts are typically easy to interpret. But, if you have any post-filing compliance activity, such as tax notices and back-and-forth correspondence with the IRS, transcripts can be confusing.

The IRS Transaction Codes Pocket Guide offers explanations, but people who use the guide can misinterpret codes and draw the wrong conclusions. It’s a good idea to seek the help of a tax expert to translate the codes.

7. Can my account transcript tell me if the IRS selected my return for audit?

Every year, the IRS selects millions of returns for examination, but audits only a fraction of those selected. If you see TC 420, “Examination of tax return,” on your account transcript, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be audited. If you’re actually being audited, you’ll receive a separate notice from the IRS. Generally, the IRS will start an audit within a year after you file the return. Learn how to handle an IRS audit.

Learn how to research your IRS account.

Your tax pro can also contact the IRS for you to research your account, ask questions, and resolve any IRS or state issues you may have. Learn about H&R Block’s Tax Audit & Notice Services. Or get help from a trusted IRS expert.

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