By law, the public does not have legal access to any individual’s tax return. Income tax records are both private and privileged information. Likewise, private investigators also cannot obtain this information. Only government agencies have the ability to obtain this information, but only by following specific protocol.
The taxing authorities within the state or at the federal level can have access to all income tax records. Additionally, the court system has the ability to order the release of any individual’s tax return data under specific circumstances. However, these are not public records, nor can they be made public, without the individual’s consent.
In accordance to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC), federal and state tax returns are confidential and private records in nearly every circumstance. There are only a few exceptions that allow government agencies other than the Internal Revenue Service and the individual to have access to past and current tax returns.
In the event that spouses file their taxes jointly, each one will have equal legal rights and full access to every year’s tax records they shared. For married individuals that file separately, the spouse will not have any legal right to view or obtain the others tax return, even if the couple is still married.
There are specific exceptions to obtaining and examining tax records. This usually involves some sort of court process. Typically, the court will require that the individual provide them as a part of the proceedings. This usually involves cases of divorce, where the court and legal representatives need to examine each party’s tax records to ensure that the proper spousal support, child support or the division of property is fair. Many times, the court system will also require access to private tax records as a way to locate a parent or parents that have missed making their court-ordered payments of child support.
The United States Department of Education will often have the legal right to examine an individual’s private tax returns. They do this to make the determination on whether the individual is eligible to receive monies through a federal or state loan program. They may also need to examine the confidential tax return anytime the individual is in default on making payments on their student loans. This allows the Internal Revenue Service to intercept any refund of a federal tax and divert it to cover the costs involved in repaying the student loan.
If an individual believes that an unauthorized person or agency has obtained or viewed their confidential federal or state tax return without proper authorization from them, they need to contact their state or federal Internal Revenue Service. In addition, it is a wise decision to make contact with all three credit bureaus. By requesting that the credit bureaus place a security freeze on the account, it can circumvent any other individual from impersonating them as a way to illegally gain access to confidential information and personal tax returns. This process will diminish the potential for another individual to commit identity theft.
There are only specific situations where an “authorized” individual has the ability to legally obtain or view another person’s confidential tax return. Although private investigators have many abilities for obtaining personal information, they cannot legally gain access to view or acquire the tax records of an individual without their consent.
Only by following proper legal procedures can any agency or individual obtain the personal data on a private tax return. However, a taxpayer has the ability to authorize another individual (a third-party) of his or her choice to gain access, view or obtain their tax return.