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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 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 moment.  The new filing method eventually caught on though 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 receive a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the note 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, since the return, together with all your sensitive information, is transmitted directly to the IRS computer system.

Your refund is likely to be processed faster because e-filing means the IRS does not need to sort or transcribe your tax return in its service center.


There’s a lesser chance that the IRS will make a mistake when calculating your return because IRS employees do not need to manually enter your return line-by-line to its own system.

You Don’t Have to Use a Tax Prep Program

You don’t have 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 understand, 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 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.

Fees

When there are tax preparation 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.

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 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 scenarios, there are certain scenarios it doesn’t support.  By way of example, you can’t file a return for somebody who passed away, you can not attach images or PDFs to your return, nor can 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 can’t accommodate.

You’ve Got a Rare Filing Situation

By way of instance, if you will need to prepare a tax return for someone who passed away, you must file a paper return.  Also, paper filing lets you print and submit images or PDFs to supplement your 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 replies 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 of the calculations and factors your refund requires.

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

Increases Odds of Errors

Data transcribers in the IRS must manually input taxpayer information for each paper return they get.  As a result of this, it could result in errors that you might have to fix through an amended return.

For filers who attempt 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 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 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.

Tips for Paper Filing

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

  1. Make sure your name and Social Security number are on every page, both back and front. 
  2. Double-check your address. 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 depending on which state you are in, and whether you’re including payment with your return.  The IRS provides a state-by-state list online so you can find the right address.

  4. Get an automatic extension if you are 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 think 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, which include the following options:

  1.             Hire a tax professional to prepare your return. 
  2. There are specific requirements for e-filing or paper filing should you use these programs.

In the unlikely event that 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 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 matter.

Key Takeaways

    1. E-filing is quickly 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 may be overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes on your own include hiring a tax pro or engaging in filing assistance programs.