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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 submitting have their advantages and disadvantages.  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 Benefits 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 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 be given a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the notice will typically indicate what triggered the action and what you can do to repair 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 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 lesser chance that the IRS will make a mistake when processing your return because IRS employees do not need to manually put in your return line-by-line to its own system.

You Do Not 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 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.

The Disadvantages of E-Filing

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

While 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 simple filing.  Fees can exceed $100, depending on which sort of features you want.

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 does not support.  For instance, you can’t file a return for somebody who passed away, you can not attach pictures or PDFs to your return, nor will you record before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Benefits of Paper Filing

Filing a paper return can be very helpful in some specific scenarios that e-filing can’t accommodate.

You Have a Rare Filing Situation

E-filing can only do so much. For instance, if you need to prepare a tax return for somebody who passed away, you must file a paper return.  Also, paper filing allows you to print and submit images or PDFs to supplement your tax return.

You Want 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.

You may fill out every form line-by-line and see firsthand 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 enter taxpayer information for every paper return they get.  Because of this, it might result in errors that you may need to fix via an amended return.

Overwhelming for Beginners

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 mistakes.

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.

Tips for Paper Filing

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

  1. Make sure your name and Social Security number are on each 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 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 are mailing your return close to 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 own website, which include 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 are eligible. There are specific 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 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 the issue.

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 can be overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes in your include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.