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Catching up on Filing Taxes Doesn’t Have to Be Hard ...(It can even be rewarding!)

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


I got behind on filing my tax returns and I want to catch up. How do I do it?

The IRS has tax forms and instructions for several prior years at its website,

  • Select the “Forms and Pubs” tab and Click “Prior Year Forms” to download the years you need.
  • A local library might print the forms or have a computer for you to use. 
  • If you feel comfortable filling out the forms, this is probably the easiest and fastest way to complete old returns.
  • If you don’t, some free tax preparation sites will help with returns for prior years.
  • These sites are generally open January thru April. In most areas, you can call 2-1-1 during tax season to find one near you.
  • Some tax sites may be open during the off-season; calling 2-1-1 is probably your best bet to locate these sites

I moved several times and don’t know if I have all my W-2s and 1099’s. How can I make sure?

Tax forms that employers, banks, and businesses send to you are normally filed with the IRS, too. The IRS may keep these records up to ten years. You can find out what is in your records by completing and sending Form 4506-T Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

To get this form online, 

  • Go to 
  • Select the “Forms and Pubs” tab 
  • Click “Current Forms” and enter 4506-T 
  • Then select “4506-T.”  

There are five different types of transcripts:

  1. Return Transcript – A copy of the most recent return filed with the IRS (Available for 3 years from the original due date)
  2. Account Transcript – Shows whether there is a balance due, penalties, interest, payments and processing date, initial tax due, and any withholdings.
  3. Record of Account – Combines the information in the Return Transcript and the Account Transcript, but is only available up to three years from the return due date.
  4. Verification of Non-Filing – Mainly used to verify whether the IRS has a return for you.  (Available after June 15th for the current year)
  5. Wage and Income Transcript – These are generally available for 10 years. It includes W-2s, 1098’s, 1099’s, and 5498’s (Individual Retirement Account contributions).  Wage and Income Transcripts should show any federal withholdings, but will not show state of Iowa withholdings.  Records of state withholdings are not kept by federal or most state entities, so your best bet is to get replacement W-2s from employers. If that is not possible, then it may be possible to estimate state withholdings based upon federal withholdings.The state of Iowa requires employers to report Iowa withholdings but the state is not required to give this information to employees.


When you fill out Form 4506-T, be sure to check the box to the right of item 8 for forms including Form W-2 and Form 1099. Mail or fax the completed form to the address or phone number that the form lists for your state.


Hint: Try to make a “GO” folder. Keep your crucial documents in this folder. Include at least a copy of your last year’s tax returns.

  • Create a current year envelope each January that you put all your W-2s, 1099’s and receipts that you may need for tax purposes
  • If you work lots of small jobs, keep at least one paystub from each job. This will help you make sure you have gotten all your W-2s when you go to get your taxes prepared.
  • Keep this folder in a secure place. Always have it where you can place your hands on it quickly when needed.

How far back can I claim refunds?

The IRS gives you three years to request a refund from the original due date of the return. If you didn’t file a tax return for the 2017 tax year, you must file it by the tax filing deadline in 2021.

What if I owe?

The IRS offers several possible options for repayment. If you can’t work something out, you might be able to get help negotiating with the IRS from Iowa Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC). To find out if you can get free legal help from Iowa Legal Aid, call 1-800-532-1275.

  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

*As a general rule, Iowa Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic does not prepare tax returns.

Last Review and Update: Apr 05, 2021
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