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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, 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 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 on 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 repair your tax return.

Safety

E-filing is much more secure than paper filing, according to the IRS, because the return, together with all of your sensitive data, is transmitted directly to the IRS computer system.

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.

Less Human Error


There’s a lower chance that the IRS will make a error when processing your return because IRS employees do not have to manually enter your return line-by-line to its system.

You Don’t 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 simple situation, and are prepared 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.

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

While there are tax preparation 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 simple filing.  Fees can exceed $100, depending on which type of features you desire.

Glitches are always possible once you’re using the internet.  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 filing attempt.

Does Not Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax scenarios, there are certain situations it doesn’t support.  By way of example, you can not file a return for somebody 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 helpful in certain scenarios that e-filing can’t accommodate.

You Have a Rare Filing Situation

By way of instance, if you 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 Want to Build Your Tax Expertise

Several 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 on your behalf.

You may fill out each form line-by-line and see firsthand all the calculations and considerations your refund requires.

Disadvantages of Paper Filing

There are several drawbacks to paper filing that make the procedure 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.  Because of this, it might result in errors that you may have to fix via 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 lead to 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, resulting in 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 by paper:

  1. Make sure that your name and Social Security number are on every 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 depending on which state you are 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 right 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 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. There are specific requirements for e-filing or paper filing if you use one of 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 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. Web or site 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 pro or participating in filing aid programs.