How To File Previous Years Tax Returns Online For Free

Know the Pros and Cons of Digital and Paper Tax Returns

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 email can be cheaper, though it takes the IRS longer to process refunds.

The Benefits of E-Filing

E-filing was initially 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 returns.

The biggest benefit 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’ll receive a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the notice 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, because the return, with all your sensitive data, is transmitted directly to the IRS computer system.

Faster Processing

Your refund is very likely to be processed faster because e-filing means the IRS doesn’t 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 processing your return because IRS employees do not need to manually enter 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’re tax savvy, have a simple situation, and are willing to learn, you can fill tax forms in directly with IRS free fillable forms.  Be aware that you need to 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.

The Disadvantages of E-Filing

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

When there are tax prep 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 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.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax situations, there are certain situations it doesn’t support.  By way of instance, you can not file a return for someone who passed away, you can not attach pictures or PDFs to your return, nor can you record 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 cannot accommodate.

You’ve Got 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 allows you to print and submit images or PDFs to supplement your own tax return.

You Need to Build Your Tax Expertise

Many online tax prep tools automate the filing process by asking you questions and using your answers to fill out forms without telling you which forms it is filing for your benefit.

You may fill out every form line-by-line and see first-hand all the calculations and considerations 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 lead to errors that you might have to fix through an amended return.

Overwhelming for Beginners

For filers who attempt 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 could 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 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 submission when you file :

  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 vital that you don’t make a mistake.

  3. Mail your return to the perfect IRS service center, as 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 that 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 ought to 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 own website, Including the following options:

  1.             Hire a tax professional to prepare your own return. 
  2. 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 data, your e-filed return will be rejected by the IRS as a copy.  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 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 overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes on your own include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.