Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is a central calculation on any tax return, determining how much income tax you owe. The IRS uses prior year AGI as a sort of security check; if you’re filing your tax return electronically, the agency won’t accept your return unless you enter this number correctly. The agency uses this number along with other details to verify your identity, but if you’re like most people, you may not know where to find it.
Taxpayers, in a lot of cases, don’t even know what an AGI is. Don’t worry — if you’re in this boat, you’re not alone, and this guide is designed to help. It defines prior year AGI and shows you exactly where to find it.
What Is Your Prior Year AGI?
Your prior year AGI is your adjusted gross income from the previous year’s tax return. You use your AGI from 2020, for example, if you’re filling out a 2021 tax return that asks for your prior year AGI. Your AGI includes your gross income minus adjustments for above-line deductions such as student loan interest, retirement contributions, and alimony payments.
Finding Your Prior Year AGI
The location of your prior year AGI varies based on the income tax return you filed. The longer and more complicated the return, the further your AGI will be from the top of the form. Here is where to find your prior year AGI based on the income tax return you filed:
You can only file 1040EZ if you’re single or married filing jointly, under age 65, and have no dependents. Your income must be below $50,000, and you cannot have more than $400 in interest income. The AGI is on line four of this form.
You can file 1040A if your income is below $50,000, and you have no capital gains or losses aside from capital gains distributions. This form does not allow you to itemize, and it only accepts deductions from IRA contributions and student loan interest. The AGI is on line 21 of this form.
The IRS recently created form 1040-SR, which is a version of Form 1040 especially for seniors. You must be over 65 with a relatively simple tax situation to file this form, and the AGI appears on line 11.
All other individual taxpayers use Form 1040. This includes people with incomes over $50,000, but it also includes people who itemize, have self-employment income, or are reporting income from the sale of a property, regardless of their income level. The AGI is on line 38 of this form.
You can look at the corresponding line to find your prior year AGI, but if you have a PDF copy of your tax return, you may be able to find AGI using the search function to locate the AGI. Note that you need to search for “adjusted gross income” rather than the abbreviation AGI.
Dealing With Special Situations
Finding your AGI is easy if you have a copy of your prior year’s return, but if you lost your return or didn’t file, you may be wondering what to do. Here are several challenges you may face when looking for your prior year AGI and tips on dealing with each of them:
1. Can’t Find Last Year’s Return
Taxpayers who can’t find their prior year’s return should contact their accountant. They can also reach out to the IRS for a transcript (an abbreviated version of an income tax return) or a full copy of their return. You can request a transcript online, but to get a complete copy of your return, you need to file Form 4506 (Request for Copy for Tax Return). You can also request a copy from your tax professional if you used one to prepare your return.
2. Didn’t File a Return Last Year
Taxpayers who didn’t file a return last year can enter a zero for their AGI. This rule also applies if you submitted an income tax return but know the IRS hasn’t received it.
3. Amended Previous Year’s Return
The IRS allows people to make changes to their returns after they have filed, and to do this, they file a tax return called a 1040-X (Amended U.S. Individual Tax Return). Taxpayers in this situation should use the AGI from their originally filed return, not from their 1040-X.
This rule also applies if the IRS changes your return. The IRS sometimes amends returns if it feels like the information is incorrect. The agency sends taxpayers notices when this happens, and even if the change affected your AGI, you should still use the AGI on your originally filed return if you’re asked to provide your prior year AGI.
4. Changed Tax Status
A change in tax status can also make it confusing to find your prior year AGI. Say you just got married, and you and your new spouse are filing your first return as married filing jointly. You should use each of your personal AGIs from the tax returns that you individually filed last year.
Maybe you filed as married filing jointly in the prior year but are now filing as single or qualifying widow(er) due to a change in circumstances. You can use the AGIs from your previously filed tax return in that case. Here’s an example: Imagine that Sue and Frank filed together last year, and their AGI was $40,000, but they got divorced and are now filing as individuals. They should both use $40,000 as their AGI.
Most tax returns only show whole dollar amounts, but if your AGI appears with change, round up or down to the nearest whole dollar. Be sure to enter your AGI carefully, though: If you make too many mistakes, the software may lock you out, just as most programs do if you enter too many incorrect passwords.
Contact the Silver Tax Group for Help With Tax Complexities
The U.S. tax code is one of the most complicated in the world, and whether you’re looking for your prior year AGI or trying to find business deductions, navigating the system can be challenging. We can help.
The Silver Tax Group helps taxpayers who are having issues with unfiled returns, unpaid tax debts, and other issues. Our team of tax attorneys is skilled at getting the best tax outcomes for our clients and resolving any disputes with the IRS. Contact us at the Silver Tax Group today to learn more about our comprehensive tax services.