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Should You E-File or File Taxes by Mail?

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

Both methods of submitting have their advantages and disadvantages.  E-filing is safe, faster, and generally more convenient than paper filing, but filing by email can be cheaper, although it takes the IRS longer to process refunds.

The Benefits of E-Filing

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

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 on your return, you will 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 much more secure than paper filing, according to the IRS, because the return, with all of your sensitive data, 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.

Less Human Error


There is a lesser chance that the IRS will make a mistake when calculating your return because IRS employees do not have 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 an expensive tax preparation program to e-file your taxes–if you are tax savvy, have a simple situation, and are willing to understand, 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.

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 basic filing.  Fees can exceed $100, depending on which type 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.  Additionally, your internet service provider may face outages that could hamper your filing effort.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax scenarios, there are certain situations it does not support.  For instance, you can’t 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.

Benefits of Paper Filing

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

You Have a Rare Filing Situation

E-filing can only do so much. By way of instance, 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 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 fill out forms without ever telling you which forms it’s filing on your behalf.

If you would like 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 may fill out every form line-by-line and see firsthand all the calculations and factors your refund requires.

Disadvantages of Paper Filing

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

Increases Chances of Errors

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

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 result in missing forms or errors.

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.

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

  1. Make sure 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, 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 are mailing your return near the official filing deadline of April 15, 2021.  Keep in mind that you ought to make a payment with your extension if you believe 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, Including 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 are eligible. There are particular requirements for e-filing or paper filing if you use these programs.

In the unlikely event that 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 copy.  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 matter.

Key Takeaways

    1. E-filing is fast and provides several free options
    2. Internet or site outages can cause frustrating delays for e-filers. 
    3. Paper filing requires more time than e-filing and can be overpowering. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes on your own include hiring a tax professional or participating in filing aid programs.