Virtually all states and the District of Columbia have partnered with the IRS to allow taxpayers to e-file their federal and state tax returns together, at the same time. This program is known as Federal/State E-file, or Modernized E-File (MeF).
The electronic filing software puts your federal and state return data in separate packets when you use this program. The separate packets are then simultaneously submitted to the IRS. The IRS acts as a virtual post office for the participating state, which retrieves the state returns from the IRS and processes them.
How to Use Federal/State E-File
Taxpayers can utilize the Federal/State E-file system through paid tax preparers, such as CPAs or enrolled agents, provided that they've been accepted as e-file providers by both the IRS and their state. You can also use tax preparation software, such as Turbo Tax, H&R Block, or Tax Slayer. Most reputable software providers are equipped to file state and federal returns for participating states.
Free tax software can also be used to e-file federal and state returns together in states that participate in IRS Free File, but the Free File software is only available to taxpayers with incomes of $72,000 or less in 2020. Some software providers have even lower income limits.
You can't participate in Federal/State E-file if you prepare your own tax return manually using the IRS forms that are also free and available online at Free File. The IRS makes these forms available to those who don't meet the income limit, but they must prepare their returns themselves. You'll be able to e-file if you use these forms, but usually only your federal tax return.
You can check with your state's Department of Taxation to make sure that it participates in the MeF program. Most do, but California and Massachusetts are both independent of the IRS.
Benefits of Filing Simultaneously
The main benefit of electronically filing your federal and state return together electronically is convenience. Other benefits include:
- Fast processing: The IRS and participating states can process e-file returns much more quickly than paper returns.
- Faster refund: Faster processing means you'll receive your refund more quickly, particularly if you request direct deposit.
- More accurate: Tax preparation software helps to eliminate errors, and the e-file system also has some built-in error detection.
- Proof of filing: You'll receive notification when your federal and state returns have been received and accepted.
Drawbacks to Using Federal/State E-file
The Federal/State E-file program can create some complexities if you have to pay both federal taxes and state taxes with your returns.
The IRS e-file software doesn't allow you to combine federal and state payments. A separate payment must be made to the state using its normal payment procedures. Virtually all states are set up to accept direct debits from your bank account, however, and they often accept credit card payments as well.
Some states don't allow the Federal/State E-file system to be used for nonresident or part-year resident tax returns, but these drawbacks are really just minor annoyances. The advantages of e-filing significantly outweigh any disadvantages in most cases.
Is E-Filing Safe?
Some people might worry about the security of their personal information when they're e-filing, but the federal e-file system has never had a security breach, according to the IRS. The IRS employs many security features, such as multiple firewalls, anti-virus features, and encryption to ensure the safety of your personal information when you transmit it.
This doesn't guarantee that you won't become a victim of identity theft on your end of the process, however. The IRS offers assistance if you think you've personally suffered a data breach.
You can file Form 14039, the "Identity Theft Affidavit," with the IRS to alert them. In fact, you might learn about the breach in the first place when you receive a notice from the IRS indicating that someone else has used your Social Security number on a filed tax return.
Get More Information
The Federation of Tax Administrators has compiled a list of contact information for each state’s e-file coordinator if you would like details on how to make tax payments and e-filing your tax return separately from the MeF program.