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

Getty Images

One thing that hasn't changed about the tax code is that you only have two options for filing your return with the Internal Revenue Service. You can submit your tax return by e-filing it, or you can mail it on paper. These are the only two ways to send your tax return to the IRS.

E-filing is faster, safer, and generally more convenient than paper filing. Filing on paper can be cheaper, but it takes the IRS longer to process these refunds.

E-File Benefits

Electronically submitting your tax return to the IRS is faster, more convenient, and more secure than paper filing. But 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 to make use of this option.

Your individual tax returns might have some caveats with specific requirements for e-filing or paper filing even if you use one of these systems.

Confirmation From the IRS

The biggest benefit of electronic filing is that you'll receive almost immediate confirmation that the IRS has received your tax return. This is proof that the IRS has accepted it—at least for the time being—and has started processing it. The IRS computer didn't throw up any red flags, such as that you've entered the same Social Security number as a return filed by someone else, either for yourself, your spouse, or for a dependent.

This doesn't necessarily mean that an agent won't find something amiss with further review, but it's an excellent start all the same.

If the IRS doesn't accept your tax return, you'll receive a rejection notice.

The confirmation or rejection notice is typically sent within 24 hours of electronically 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.

It's Faster and More Accurate!

E-filing has another added benefit, too. Your refund is likely to be processed faster because e-filing means the IRS doesn't have to sort or re-transcribe your tax return at their service center, so there's less chance that the IRS will make a mistake when processing your return.

E-File Limitations

E-filing isn't for everyone, however. Although almost all tax forms are available online, a few aren't. And some forms come with specific limitations. You can check the IRS website for those that might apply to the forms you think you'll have 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.
  • Filing before e-file begins (January 28) or after e-file ends (in November 2019—the IRS will announce an exact date in October).

Paper Filing

Filing on paper may be the best option for you if you have a fairly simple tax return or if you're not eligible for e-filing for some reason. But data transcribers at the IRS must manually input taxpayer information for every paper return it receives, so consider e-filing if you have a more complex tax return.

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 where the IRS will send your refund and any notices, so it's important that you don't make a mistake, such as transposing numbers. Consider using a PO Box or other permanent address if you'll be moving within the next few months.
  • Double-check the math. Math errors are the number one reason the IRS changes a tax return.
  • Mail your return to the right IRS service center.
  • Get an automatic extension if you're mailing your return close to April 15, and keep in mind that you should make a payment with your extension if you think you'll owe anything.
  • The IRS will generally 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.