Certified public accountants, or CPAs, generally maintain client files for a number of years. So whether you need a copy of your old tax returns for an employment application or just want a copy of the entire file, a prior CPA generally must respond to your request for tax documents. However, the availability of your file and the costs you’ll incur to obtain it can depend on the type and age of the tax documents requested.
Draft a list of the specific tax documents you need. Your prior CPA may have a very large tax file for you. Knowing precisely which tax documents you need before contacting the CPA may help you get the documents you need fast.
Submit the document request to your CPA. Put your request in writing and either email or mail it to the CPA’s office. Making the request in writing, as opposed to over the telephone, can increase the chances that you'll obtain the correct documents and may be helpful if the CPA fails to cooperate.
Pay the fees, if any. When the requested tax documents include items that you provided to the CPA, such as bank statements and W-2 forms, he may charge fees to cover the time and expense of complying with your request. However, some states, such as Texas, do not allow CPAs to charge fees when returning documents originally provided by a client. For all other types of tax documents, CPAs are generally not prohibited from charging fees.
Order copies of previous tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, instead of from your former CPA. Place an order with the IRS by filing Form 4506 and making the required payment. The IRS will send you a complete copy of an old tax return, which includes the original tax form; all schedules filed with it, such as a Schedule A if you itemized; and all other tax forms that were attached to the return for any credit or deduction you took.
When ordering copies of old tax returns from the IRS, keep in mind that the agency can only provide you with returns you filed in the current and preceding six years. As an alternative, the IRS can provide you with a free tax return transcript. Transcripts are printouts that report all figures from each line of the requested tax return. It has the same information that a complete copy includes, but it doesn't show the original tax forms.
Certified public accountants must respond to your tax document requests within a reasonable amount of time. Some states follow the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ definition of “reasonable” as no more than 45 days. Other states, such as Texas, define reasonable as a maximum of 10 or 20 days.
Each state’s board of accountancy establishes the minimum amount of time that a CPA must maintain a file for your tax documents. If you make the request at a time when your file is no longer available, it may be impossible for your CPA to send any tax documents.
A CPA’s obligation to fulfill your request and ability to charge fees depends on the type of tax document you’re asking for -- and whether you still have an outstanding balance with the CPA. For example, CPAs must return any original document you provided and the final tax return they were hired to prepare. However, certain documents that the CPA creates, such as supporting spreadsheets and notes, may not be available to you.