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Should You E-File or File Taxes by Mail?

When you file your taxes, you have two options for filing your return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): electronically or by mail.

Both methods of filing have their pros and cons.  E-filing is safe, faster, and generally more convenient than paper filing, but filing by mail can be cheaper, though it takes the IRS longer to process refunds.

The Advantages of E-Filing

A scant number of tax professionals–five of them, according to the IRS–took advantage of the new technology at the time.  The new filing method eventually caught on though and, as of 2018, approximately 90% of taxpayers e-filed their yields.

Immediate Confirmation

The biggest advantage of electronic filing is that you’ll receive almost immediate confirmation that the IRS has received your tax return.

If the IRS finds errors on your return, you will receive a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the notice will typically indicate what triggered the action and what you can do to fix your tax return.

Safety

E-filing is more secure than paper filing, according to the IRS, since the return, with all of your sensitive data, is transmitted directly to the IRS computer system.

Your refund is likely to be processed quicker because e-filing means the IRS doesn’t need to sort or transcribe your tax return at its service center.

Less Human Error


There is a lower chance that the IRS will make a mistake when calculating your return because IRS employees do not have to manually put in your return line-by-line to its system.

You Do Not Have to Use a Tax Prep Program

You don’t need to use a costly tax preparation program to e-file your taxes–if you are tax savvy, have a simple situation, and are prepared to learn, you can fill tax forms in directly using IRS free fillable forms.  Be aware that you should be comfortable completing basic tax forms to use the service as no advice is provided.  And if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $72,000, you may be better off using one of the IRS’ many free-file affiliates.

The Disadvantages of E-Filing

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

When there are tax preparation tools which are free, many of the top tax prep companies like TurboTax, TaxSlayer, and H&R Block charge fees for tax returns that go beyond a basic filing.  Fees can exceed $100, depending on which sort of features you want.

Vulnerable to Outages

Glitches are always possible once you’re using the internet.  In 2020, TurboTax’s site experienced at least seven outages between April 15 and April 17.  Also, your online service provider may face outages that could hamper your filing effort.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax situations, there are certain situations it does not support.  For instance, you can not file a return for somebody who passed away, you can not attach images or PDFs to your return, nor will you record before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Benefits of Paper Filing

Filing a paper return can be very helpful in some specific scenarios that e-filing can’t accommodate.

You’ve Got a Rare Filing Situation

By way of example, if you will need to prepare a tax return for someone who passed away, you have to file a paper return.  Also, paper filing lets you print and submit images or PDFs to supplement your own tax return.

You Want to Build Your Tax Expertise

Several online tax prep tools automate the filing process by asking you questions and using your replies to complete forms without ever telling you which forms it’s filing on your behalf.

You can fill out each form line-by-line and see first-hand all of the calculations and considerations your refund requires.

There are lots of drawbacks to paper filing that make the procedure riskier and more taxing than e-filing.

Increases Odds of Errors

Data transcribers in the IRS must manually enter taxpayer information for each paper return they get.  Because of this, it could lead to errors that you may need to fix via an amended return.

Overwhelming for Beginners

For filers who try paper filing after years of electronic filing, gathering all of the forms necessary for things like student loan interest, mortgage interest, capital gains, and business deductions can be intimidating, and it might lead to missing forms or errors.

You Need to Remember to Sign the Return

Veteran paper filers realize that you have to manually sign the paper return you submit, or the IRS will not accept it.  Newbie paper filers often forget this fact, leading to even longer delays than what you’d normally expect with a paper return.

You can do a few things to streamline your yield entry when you file by paper:

  1. Make sure your name and Social Security number are on each page, both back and front. 
  2. Double-check your address. This is where the IRS will send any notices, so it’s important that you don’t make a mistake.

  3. Mail your return to the perfect IRS service center, since the address can change depending on which state you are in, and whether you are including payment with your return.  The IRS provides a state-by-state list online so that you can find the right address.

  4. Get an automatic extension if you’re mailing your return near the official filing deadline of April 15, 2021.  Keep in mind that you should make a payment with your extension if you think you’ll owe anything.  Otherwise, you could be subject to penalties and interest.

The IRS provides a list of acceptable filing options on its own website, which include the following options:

  1.             Hire a tax professional to prepare your return. 
  2. Use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, if you’re eligible. There are specific requirements for e-filing or paper filing should you use one of these programs.

In the unlikely event your identity is stolen and the thief files a tax return with your information, your e-filed return will be rejected by the IRS as a duplicate.  You must file a paper tax return in this situation and mail it in with Form 14039, the”Identity Theft Affidavit,” notifying the IRS of the issue.

Key Takeaways

    1. E-filing is quickly and provides several free options
    2. Internet or website outages can cause frustrating delays for e-filers. 
    3. Paper filing requires more time than e-filing and may be overpowering. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes in your include hiring a tax pro or engaging in filing aid programs.