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Know the Pros and Cons of Digital and Paper Tax Returns

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

Both methods of submitting have their pros and cons.  E-filing is safe, faster, and generally more convenient than paper filing, but filing by email can be cheaper, though it requires 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 moment.  The new filing method eventually caught on however and, as of 2018, roughly 90% of taxpayers e-filed their yields.

The biggest benefit 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 notice will typically indicate what triggered the actions 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 does not have to sort or transcribe your tax return in its service center.

Less Human Error


There is a lesser chance that the IRS will make a mistake when calculating your return because IRS employees don’t need to manually enter your return line-by-line into its own 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 very simple situation, and are willing to learn, you can fill tax forms in directly using IRS free fillable forms.  Be aware that you need to be comfortable completing basic tax forms to use the service as no guidance 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.

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

While there are tax prep tools that are free, many of the leading 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 want.

Glitches are always possible when you’re using the net.  In 2020, TurboTax’s website experienced at least seven outages between April 15 and April 17.  Additionally, your online 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 situations it does not support.  By way of instance, you can’t file a return for someone who passed away, you can not attach pictures or PDFs to your return, nor can you file before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Advantages 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

For 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 tax return.

You Want to Build Your Tax Experience

Several online tax prep tools automate the filing process by asking you questions and using your answers to complete forms without telling you which forms it’s filing for your benefit.

If you want to learn about, and better review, the details of your tax return, including all forms related to your tax situation, filing a paper return provides the transparency you crave. You can fill out every form line-by-line and see first-hand all the calculations and considerations your refund requires.

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

Increases Odds of Errors

Data transcribers at the IRS must manually enter taxpayer information for each paper return they get.  As a result of this, it might result in errors that you might need to fix via an amended return.

Overwhelming for Beginners

For filers who try paper filing after years of electronic filing, collecting all of the forms necessary for things like student loan interest, mortgage interest, capital gains, and business deductions can be intimidating, and it might result in 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 return entry when you file by paper:

  1. Make sure that your name and Social Security number are on each page, both back and front. 
  2. 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 based 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 are 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 believe you’ll owe anything.  Otherwise, you might be subject to interest and penalties.

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. Use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, if you’re eligible. There are particular requirements for e-filing or paper filing if you use these programs.

In the unlikely event your identity is stolen and the thief files a tax return with your data, your e-filed return will be rejected by the IRS as a duplicate.  You have to file a paper tax return in this case 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 can be overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes on your own include hiring a tax pro or engaging in filing assistance programs.