By Kelly Phillips
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 are 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 andeither 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.