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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’ve got two options for filing your return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): electronically or by mail.

Both methods of submitting have their pros and cons.  E-filing is safe, faster, and more convenient than paper filing, but filing by mail can be cheaper, though it requires 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 though and, as of 2018, approximately 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 on your return, you’ll be given a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the note 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, since the return, together with all 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.


There’s a lesser chance that the IRS will make a mistake when calculating your return because IRS employees do not have to manually put in your return line-by-line into 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 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 guidance 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.

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

While there are tax prep tools that are free, many of the top 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.

Vulnerable to Outages

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.  Also, your online service provider may face outages that could hamper your filing effort.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax situations, there are certain situations it does not support.  By way of instance, you can’t file a return for someone who passed away, you can’t attach images 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 beneficial in certain scenarios that e-filing cannot accommodate.

You’ve Got 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 someone who passed away, you must file a paper return.  Also, paper filing allows you to print and submit images or PDFs to supplement your own 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’s filing on your behalf.

You can fill out each form line-by-line and see first-hand all the calculations and factors your refund requires.

There are several drawbacks to paper filing that make the procedure riskier and more taxing than e-filing.

Increases Odds of Errors

Data transcribers at the IRS must manually enter taxpayer information for each paper return they get.  As a result of this, it could 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 might lead to missing forms or mistakes.

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 by paper:

  1. Make sure that your name and Social Security number are on each page, both front and back. 
  2. This is where the IRS will send any notices, so it is important that you don’t make a mistake.

  3. Mail your return to the perfect IRS service center, since 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 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 ought to make a payment with your extension if you think you’ll owe anything.  Otherwise, you could be subject to penalties and interest.

The IRS provides a list of acceptable filing options on its 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’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 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 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 may be overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes on your own include hiring a tax pro or participating in filing assistance programs.