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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 pros and cons.  E-filing is safe, faster, and generally more convenient than paper filing, but filing by mail 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 the new technology at the time.  The new filing method eventually caught on though and, as of 2018, approximately 90% of taxpayers e-filed their returns.

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 receive 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 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 is a lesser chance that the IRS will make a error when calculating your return because IRS employees do not have to manually put in your return line-by-line into its own system.

You Do Not Have to Use a Tax Prep Program

You don’t have to use a costly tax preparation program to e-file your taxes–if you are tax savvy, have a simple situation, and are willing to learn, 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 advice is provided.  And if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $72,000, you may 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

When there are tax prep tools which are free, many of the leading 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 want.

Vulnerable to Outages

Glitches are always possible when 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 submitting effort.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

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

Advantages 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

By way of instance, 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 pictures or PDFs to supplement your own 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 ever telling you which forms it is filing on your behalf.

If you want to learn 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 may fill out every form line-by-line and see first-hand all the calculations and factors your refund requires.

Disadvantages of Paper Filing

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 input taxpayer information for every paper return they get.  Because of this, it might result in errors that you might need to fix through an amended return.

For filers who attempt paper filing after years of electronic filing, collecting 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 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 won’t 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 return entry when you file by paper:

  1. Make sure 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 right IRS service center, as the address can change depending 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 right address.

  4. Get an automatic extension if you’re 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 own website, which include 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 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 the matter.

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 on your own include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.