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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 more convenient than paper filing, but filing by email can be cheaper, although it requires the IRS longer to process refunds.

The Advantages of E-Filing

E-filing was first introduced in 1986, and it got off to a slow start. A scant number of tax professionals–five of them, according to the IRS–took advantage of the new technology at the moment.  The new filing method eventually caught on however and, as of 2018, roughly 90% of taxpayers e-filed their yields.

Immediate Confirmation

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

If the IRS finds errors in your return, you’ll be given a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the note will typically indicate what triggered the actions and what you can do to repair your tax return.

Safety

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

Your refund is very likely to be processed quicker because e-filing means the IRS does not have to sort or transcribe your tax return at its service center.


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

You Do Not Have to Use a Tax Prep Program

You don’t need to use an expensive tax preparation program to e-file your taxes–if you’re tax savvy, have a simple situation, and are prepared to learn, you can fill tax forms in directly with 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 might be better off using one of the IRS’ many free-file affiliates.

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

While there are tax prep tools that 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 simple filing.  Fees can exceed $100, depending on which type of features you desire.

Vulnerable to Outages

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

Does Not Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax scenarios, there are certain scenarios it doesn’t support.  By way of example, you can not file a return for someone who passed away, you can’t attach pictures or PDFs to your return, nor will you file before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Advantages of Paper Filing

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

You Have a Rare Filing Situation

E-filing can only do so much. For example, if you need to prepare a tax return for somebody who passed away, you have to file a paper return.  Also, paper filing lets you print and submit pictures or PDFs to supplement your own tax return.

You Want to Build Your Tax Experience

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

You may fill out each form line-by-line and see firsthand all the calculations and factors your refund requires.

There are several drawbacks to paper filing which make the procedure riskier and more taxing than e-filing.

Increases Odds of Errors

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

For filers who attempt paper filing after years of electronic filing, collecting all the forms necessary for things like student loan interest, mortgage interest, capital gains, and business deductions can be intimidating, and it could result in missing forms or mistakes.

You Will 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 won’t accept it.  Newbie paper filers often forget this fact, leading to even longer delays than what you’d normally expect with a paper return.

Tips for Paper Filing

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 front and back. 
  2. This is where the IRS will send any notices, so it is vital that you don’t make a mistake.

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

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

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

  1.             Hire a tax professional to prepare your return. 
  2. There are particular requirements for e-filing or paper filing should you use 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 have to file a paper tax return in this situation and mail it in with Form 14039, the”Identity Theft Affidavit,” notifying the IRS of this issue.

Key Takeaways

    1. E-filing is fast and provides several free options
    2. Web 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 professional or participating in filing aid programs.