E-file by smartphone? Everyone's doing it

Submitting tax returns via a mobile device is the fastest-growing way of filing, tax experts say.

Mia Taylor
by Mia Taylor, MainStreet contributor (@miataylor13)

These days you can use your smartphone for just about everything, including e-filing your taxes.

In fact, submitting tax returns via a mobile device is the fastest-growing way of filing, according to H&R Block Product Specialist Heather Watts.

>> FREE: eFile your taxes

“There’s a lot more people, getting a lot more comfortable doing things on their smartphone,” Watts says. “If you have your W2 in front of you, it can be done in 15 minutes.”

E-filing via a smartphone is incredibly convenient thanks to various technological advances. For instance, with H&R Block’s smartphone software, called the 1040EZ App, you can snap a picture of your W2 with your phone and the software takes the information from the picture and inputs it into your tax forms. This feature eliminates a great deal of typing or manual entry of information.

TurboTax has a similar smartphone app for simple tax returns, with similar photo capabilities. Called SnapTax, the TurboTax version has received more than 8,000 ratings and five stars from users, says Julie Miller, TurboTax’s director of public relations and social media. Their software is free to download but charges $20 to file each return. H&R Block’s smartphone software is free when used to file a simple federal and state return.

INFOGRAPHIC: Dramatic rise in e-filing taxes

Filing from your smartphone, however, is not recommended for people with more complex returns, which include a Schedule A or Schedule C, Watts says.

If you want to e-file via a tablet such as an iPad, there’s another version of software available from both companies. Because the screen on an iPad is larger than that of a smartphone, the software it uses is slightly different, mimicking the more traditional software used online. Neither company charges to download their iPad software. TurboTax charges a fee when filing, though, with prices starting at $29.99 for federal returns and $36.99 for a state return.

And even do-it-yourself filers occasionally have questions, right? The companies have come up with a solution. Taxpayers using the deluxe and premium versions of H&R Block At Home for the iPad can chat live with a company tax professional, and the same goes for TurboTax: Before hitting the send button on their e-filing, users of TurboTax software can get free tax advice via a telephone number posted on the company’s website.

READ: Pros and cons of e-filing taxes

“There’s this hybrid out there of ‘I want the convenience of doing my taxes myself from home, anytime, anywhere, but I want to know that if I have a question I can call a highly qualified professional,” Miller says.

Miller and Watts predict that technology will continue to become more accommodating when it comes to filing taxes on your own. Future conveniences incorporated into the tax filing process might include Skyping with a tax professional or other ways of “virtualizing” the experience, Miller says.

“The [mobile] market is still in its infancy,” Watts adds. “Meaning we’re going to see a lot more people using mobile devices to transact. The more we can make it easier on clients, the better.”

“As we look to future, what other types of documents would you want to take pictures of and pull data from?” Watts adds. “That’s where I see the market heading. How do I get to the point where I don’t have to populate the documents myself?”