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Know the Pros and Cons of Digital and Paper Tax Returns

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 advantages and disadvantages.  E-filing is safe, faster, and more convenient than paper filing, but filing by email can be cheaper, though it requires the IRS longer to process refunds.

The Benefits 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, roughly 90% of taxpayers e-filed their returns.

Immediate Confirmation

The biggest advantage of electronic filing is that you will receive almost immediate confirmation that the IRS has received your tax return.

If the IRS finds errors in your return, you will 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 fix your tax return.

Safety

E-filing is much 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 quicker because e-filing means the IRS doesn’t need to sort or transcribe your tax return in 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 don’t 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 very simple situation, and are willing to learn, 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 sort of features you desire.

Vulnerable to Outages

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 internet service provider may face outages that could hamper your submitting attempt.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

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

Advantages of Paper Filing

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

You Have a Rare Filing Situation

E-filing can only do so much. For example, if you need to prepare a tax return for somebody 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 Experience

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.

If you would like to know about, and better review, the details of your tax return, including all forms related to your tax situation, filing a paper return provides the transparency you crave. You can fill out each form line-by-line and see first-hand all of the calculations and considerations your refund requires.

Disadvantages of Paper Filing

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

Increases Chances of Errors

Data transcribers in the IRS must manually input taxpayer information for each paper return they receive.  Because of this, it might lead to errors that you might have to fix via an amended return.

Overwhelming for Beginners

For filers who attempt paper filing after years of electronic filing, gathering all the forms necessary for things like student loan interest, mortgage interest, capital gains, and business deductions can be intimidating, and it might 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.

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 front and back. 
  2. This is where the IRS will send any notices, so it’s important that you don’t make a mistake.

  3. Mail your return to the right IRS service center, as 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 correct address.

  4. Get an automatic extension if you’re 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, Including the following options:

  1.             Hire a tax professional to prepare your own return. 
  2. Use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, if you’re eligible. 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 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 quickly 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 can be overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes in your include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.