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Should You E-File or File Taxes by Mail?

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 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 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 advantage 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 will be given 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 much more secure than paper filing, according to the IRS, since the return, together 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 need to sort or transcribe your tax return in its service center.


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

You Don’t 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 very 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 advice is provided.  And if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $72,000, you might be better off with 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 preparation tools which 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.

Glitches are always possible once you’re using the net.  In 2020, TurboTax’s website 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.

Does Not Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax situations, there are certain situations it does not support.  By way of example, you can not file a return for somebody who passed away, you can’t attach pictures or PDFs to your return, nor will you record before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Advantages 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 will 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 tax return.

You Need to Build Your Tax Experience

Several online tax prep tools automate the filing process by asking you questions and using your replies to complete forms without ever telling you which forms it is filing on your behalf.

You may fill out every form line-by-line and see first-hand all the calculations and considerations your refund requires.

There are lots of drawbacks to paper filing that 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 get.  Because of this, it might result in errors that you might have to fix via an amended return.

For filers who try 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 might lead to 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, 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 entry when you file by paper:

  1. Make sure that your name and Social Security number are on every page, both front and back. 
  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, 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 that 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.  Bear in mind that you should 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 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 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 must file a paper tax return in this case 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 overpowering. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes on your own include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.