If you’re wondering “how much do I owe the IRS?” you’re not alone. In 2018, Americans owed more than $128.2 billion in back taxes. But this includes penalties and interest, and few people are good at keeping a running balance of their total tax debt. That same year, the IRS assessed $13 billion in additional taxes and collected more than $1.4 billion with delinquent returns.
Some people don’t even know they are behind on their taxes. Even if you do know you owe back taxes, keeping tabs of your current balance when you owe the IRS can be a challenge.
This guide provides a step-by-step guide on how to find out if you owe money to the IRS (and how much).
The consequences of back taxes
Back taxes refer to fully or partially unpaid taxes in the year due. Taxes may be unpaid on the federal, state, or local level. In addition to owing the taxes, back taxes also accumulate interest and penalties. This can end up costing you a lot of money.
If you are unable to pay back taxes, the IRS may seize your assets or property or place liens on your property. The IRS may also garnish your wages to secure payment. Tax liens also used to appear on your credit report for up to 10 years. However, in 2018, tax liens were removed from credit reports.
How Much Do I Owe the IRS?
Knowing exactly how much you owe in back taxes allows you owe to make better plans for payment. Or you may find that you can’t afford to pay your back taxes. In that case, it might be time to seek tax relief. through a tax relief specialist.
Several methods exist for finding out how much taxes do I owe. You can request a transcript online, via mail, or by calling the IRS or visiting an IRS office. It’s free to request your tax information from the IRS.
Use the IRS online app
An easy way to determine if you owe the IRS is to use the free online app introduced in 2016. The app is a portal tool that allows you to view your IRS account. Within your account, you can see how much in back taxes you owe for each year. This includes the tax balance owed, as well as interest and penalties. You can also view up to 24 months of payment history. And you will see the last time that you filed taxes.
To Request a Transcript, follow these steps:
Step 1: Go to Welcome to Request Transcript:
Step 2: Click on Get Transcript Online
Step 3: Sign up, if you don’t have an account yet. Or log in.
Step 4: To register, you will need to prove your identity by providing the number of one of your accounts.
Step 5: You will also need a telephone number that is linked to you as a subscriber.
Step 6: Choose the type of transcript you need. If you’re interested in back taxes, choose “federal tax and” a download a “record of account transcript.” There are transcripts for a variety of purposes, such as mortgages, student aid, and disaster relief.
Step 7. Download the record of account and check how much you owe. The record of account tells you what your total balance, interest, and penalties are.
Online tool limitations and requirements
Although the online tool is convenient, it has some limitations. The app is only available Monday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET. On Sundays, you can access the app from 10 a.m. to midnight ET. The system is also sometimes down for maintenance.
For security purposes, the app will require that you share a variety of information to verify your identity. Before signing up in the app, gather the following information:
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Email address
- Mailing address as of last return
- Mobile phone number
- Your filing status
- Account number from a financial account such as a student loan, credit card, mortgage, HELOC, home equity line, or auto loan.
When verifying your identity, the IRS will also do a soft pull of your credit. This will not show on your credit report.
Possible problems with online tax document retrieval
If you are unable to verify your identity online, you can get a transcript by mail (see below.) Or, you can call the automated phone transcript number at 800-908-9946. When you call, request to order a tax account transcript or return by mail. Allow 5 to 10 calendar days from the time of the order.[Note: Mailed return and activation code service temporarily suspended.]
The online tool may say that your information doesn’t match the IRS system. If that happens, check all the information again. Use the exact address and filing status and date of the last return. If the message persists, get transcripts by mail (see below.) You can also submit form Form 4506-T via fax to the IRS. (There are fax numbers by region on the form.)
If the tax year you require is not available online, submit Form 4506-T to request a transcript of that year.
Call the IRS to discover how much do I owe the IRS
If you prefer to talk to a person, you can call the IRS and ask how much in back taxes you owe. [Note: Calls aren’t being answered at this time.]
Step 1: Call 800-829-1040, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (To avoid a long wait time, avoid calling during peak times, such as later in the day and tax season.)
Step 2: When the IRS agent answers, express your intent to find out how much you owe in back taxes. Be prepared to give the agent the following:
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Email address
- Mailing address of your last return
- Mobile phone number
- Your filing status
- A way to identify yourself, such as an account number from a student loan, credit card, mortgage, HELOC, home equity line or auto loan.
Step 3: Ask the agent if you owe back taxes. If possible, give the year in which you believe you owe IRS back taxes.
Fill out a request form and mail it
[Note: Transcripts by mail are temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.]
If you would like to conduct your IRS dealings via the mail, you can do so. Here are the steps.
Step 1: Fill out form 4506: Request for Copy of Tax Return:
Step 2: Mail the form to the address indicated on the second page according to your geographic area.
Requesting tax forms via mail will take much longer than online. If you do owe interest and penalties, they will continue to accrue while you wait for the mail. The IRS will send any responses via mail to the last address you used to file a return. If you moved, make sure that your mail will forward to your new address. The IRS website says it will mail the transcript within 5 to 10 calendar days after you place your request.
Types of tax documents you can request
Three main types of tax documents exist. A tax return transcript shows most of the line items on your original return, as well as schedules and forms. It is only available for the current and prior three years of returns.
A tax account transcript shows the same as a return transcript, as well as information like marital status, and adjusted gross income. You can get this transcript for the current year and the past 10 years.
A record of account transcript is a combination of the tax account and the tax return transcripts. This document is available for the current year and prior three years.
Request your back-tax balance in person
Depending on where you live, you may be able to go into a Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC). At this facility, they can give you your back-tax liability information in person. TACs are located throughout the United States. [Note: All TACs are temporarily closed during the Coronavirus crisis]
Get help from tax specialists
Tax relief specialists like enrolled agents, CPAs, and tax attorneys can also help you find out how much you owe. Calling a specialist will save you the trouble of doing the research yourself, but it will cost you while doing it yourself is free. If you hire a tax professional, checking your tax transcripts will probably part of their basic onboarding protocol. Once a tax relief specialist finds out how much you owe, they can provide a better idea about tax relief solutions are available.
Dealing with back taxes owed
When you discover that you owe back taxes, it’s best to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Ignoring back taxes only compounds the problem. Also, don’t assume you can wait out Uncle Sam. The IRS has 10 years to collect on your back taxes. Even after a decade, there are exceptions to this rule.
If you are unable to pay your back taxes, there are programs that can help. These include qualifying for a partial reduction of your debt. This is done through a partial payment installment agreement. Or you can do an IRS offer in compromise. Another option is the Fresh Start Program.
Frequently asked questions about back taxes
Can I find out what I owe the IRS online?
Absolutely, the guide above provides a step-by-step guide on how to check your IRS tax debt for free.
How can I find out if my taxes were filed?
The IRS has a free tool that allows you to request transcripts for the years you filed your taxes. Check the step-by-step guide above.
How to find out last time I filed taxes?
Follow the steps outlined above and check which is that last year you can download a tax transcript.
What do you need to request tax return transcript online?
It takes about 15 minutes to register with the IRS and request a tax return transcript. The guide above explains in detail how to do it. You will need proof of identity, a telephone number that is linked to you as a subscriber, and the number of one of your accounts (credit card, mortgage, etc.)
What forms do you need to apply for a tax transcript?
You can apply by mail using Form 4506: Request for Copy of Tax Return. However, it is easier and faster to do online.
How can I get my tax transcripts fast?
Apply online using the step-by-step guide above and you could have your transcript in 10 minutes.
Do IRS transcripts cost money?
Not if you do it yourself. The guide above explains how. However, you can also hire a tax professional to do it for you. If you need an actual copy of your tax return, you will have to pay a fee. As of the date of publication, the fee is $50 per copy.
What does an IRS transcript show?
It depends on which type of transcript you choose. A basic record of account provides a summary of your tax return for that year and details on your tax balance, accrued interest, and accrued penalties.
How far back can I get an IRS transcript?
Tax return transcripts are available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years. However, you can obtain a copy of your actual tax return for the last six years.
What is the difference between a tax return transcript and a tax account transcript?
A tax account transcript shows basic data such as return type, marital status, adjusted gross income, taxable income, and all payment types. It also shows changes made after the filing of the original return. A tax return transcript, on the other hand, shows most line items including AGI from an original tax return (Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) as filed, along with any forms and schedules. It doesn’t show changes made after the filing of the original return.
What if I can’t verify my identity when applying for my tax transcript online?
There are other methods to obtain your tax return, such as by mail or in person. The guide above explains how to do this in detail.
What should I do if the information I provided does not match what is in the IRS systems?
Check all the information you entered is correct. It must match what’s in our systems. Use the exact address and filing status from your latest tax return. If you are still receiving the message, you will have to use the Get Transcript by Mail option or submit a Form 4506-T to the IRS. See detailed instructions above.
Can you request a tax transcript for someone else?
No. You may submit Form 4506-T by following the instructions on the form. Practitioners can use e-Services Transcript Delivery System if their power of attorney already exists in the IRS Centralized Authorization File.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.