Find out If You Should E-File or Paper File Your Taxes

Tax preparation form 1040
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Submitting your tax return by e-file and mailing it on paper are the only two ways to send your tax return to the IRS. E-file is faster, safer, and generally more convenient than paper filing. Filing on paper is generally cheaper, though refunds take longer.

In some cases, you may not have a choice which makes the filing easier.

E-File Benefits

Electronically submitting your tax return to the IRS is faster, more convenient, and more secure than paper filing. But in order to e-file your return, you have to have your taxes done by a tax preparer, prepare them yourself using tax software, or use one of the "Free File" web software programs. Even when using these systems, your individual tax returns may have caveats with specific requirements for e-filing or paper filing.

Confirmation from the IRS

The biggest benefit for electronic filing is that you will receive a confirmation that the IRS has received your tax return. This is proof that the IRS received your tax return and has started processing it.

If the IRS does not accept your tax return, you will get a rejection notice. The confirmation or rejection notice is sent within 24 hours of transmitting your return. The IRS e-file rejection letter will tell you how to fix your tax return so it will be acceptable to the IRS.

Faster and More Accurate

E-filing has some added benefits too. Your refund is likely to be processed faster. E-filing means the IRS does not have to your tax return at their service center, which means less chance that the IRS will make a mistake when processing your return.

E-File Limitations

Electronically is not for everyone, however. While most forms are available online, a few are not. Additionally, some forms come with specific limitations; for those that may apply to the forms you plan to complete. There are also a few circumstances in which you won't be able to use the e-file application:

  • If you need to add statements or PDF attachments.
  • If the "additional information" section on your form doesn't contain enough space.
  • Decedent returns.
  • Filing before e-file begins (January 28) or after e-file ends ().

Paper Filing

Filing on paper may be the best option for you if you have a fairly simple tax return or if you are not eligible for e-filing. Because data transcribers at the IRS must input taxpayer information for every paper return it receives, seriously consider e-filing if you have a more complex tax return.

Here are some quick tips for paper filing:

  • Make sure your name and social security number are on every page, both front and back.
  • Double-check your address. This is the address where the IRS will send your refund and any notices. If you will be moving, consider using a PO Box or other permanent address.
  • Double-check the math. Math errors are the number one reason why the IRS changes a tax return.
  • Mail your return to the right service center.
  • Get an automatic extension if you are mailing your return close to April 15. (You will have to make a payment with your extension.)
  • Send your tax payment with your tax return as early as possible. Generally, the IRS will accept paper filings postmarked by April 15, but this can be tricky, depending on your mail service and the timing. In some cases, you can pay online but mail your filing.