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Should You E-File or File Taxes by Mail?

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 advantages and disadvantages.  E-filing is safe, faster, and more convenient than paper filing, but filing by mail can be cheaper, although 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.

Immediate Confirmation

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 in your return, you will receive a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the note will typically indicate what triggered the action and what you can do to fix your tax return.

Safety

E-filing is more secure than paper filing, according to the IRS, because the return, with all of your sensitive information, 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 does not have to sort or transcribe your tax return at its service center.


There’s a lesser chance that the IRS will make a error when processing your return because IRS employees don’t have to manually put in your return line-by-line to its 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 prepared to understand, 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 may 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

While there are tax preparation tools that are free, many of the leading tax prep firms 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 desire.

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.  Also, your online service provider may face outages that could hamper your submitting attempt.

Does Not Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax situations, there are certain situations it doesn’t support.  For instance, you can not file a return for someone who passed away, you can not attach images or PDFs to your return, nor can you record before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Benefits of Paper Filing

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

You Have a Rare Filing Situation

By way of example, 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 pictures or PDFs to supplement your 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 answers to complete forms without telling you which forms it is filing on your behalf.

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

Disadvantages of Paper Filing

There are lots of drawbacks to paper filing which make the procedure 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 might result in errors that you might have to fix through an amended return.

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 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, resulting in 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 return submission when you file by paper:

  1. Make sure that 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 right IRS service center, since the address can change based on which state you’re in, and whether you’re including payment with your return.  The IRS provides a state-by-state list online so that you can find the right address.

  4. Get an automatic extension if you are mailing your return close to 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, 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 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 duplicate.  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 this matter.

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 in your include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.