Pros and Cons of e-Filing Taxes

George Chidi
by George Chidi, Contributor


Have you always filed electronically? Never done it? Here are a few things to consider.

The Pros of E-File

Accuracy: Estimates for the error rate for paper returns vary from 10 to 21 percent. Estimates for the error rate for electronic returns also vary, but the IRS pegs it at one in 200. Electronic returns are easier to correct, too. Most online or computer programs will automatically check the math on a return and catch data entry errors.

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Speed: An electronically-filed return will be processed by the IRS in one or two days, while it takes much longer for a paper return. As a result, refunds for an e-filed return will be processed in about two weeks – 10 days if you have a very simple return without itemized deductions and direct deposit — while it may take six weeks for a refund to arrive after submitting a paper return.  

Confirmation: The IRS immediately acknowledges the receipt of a tax return when it is filed electronically. And if the IRS discovers a defect in the filing, you'll receive notice within a day or so.

Record keeping: Electronic records are generally easier to work with than paper records when you're entering data or referring to earlier year taxes. Some software programs will be able to draw data directly from earlier-year returns, speeding up the preparation process. 

Cheap, and environmentally friendly: No paper. No toner cartridge use. No stamps. No gas needed to drive to the post office. And if your 2012 adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less, you can file for free.

READ: Can Your Dog Fetch a Tax Deduction?

The Cons of E-File

Some filings can't be done electronically: Some conditions are complicated enough for the IRS to require a paper trail. For example, if you're married filing separately and you live in a state with community property rules, you'll need a paper filing. You can't e-file before January 15 or after October 15. You can't file electronically directly through the IRS site if you live overseas; you have to use a third-party preparer to do so – which is stupid and may be somewhat more expensive depending on the firm used.

Pay now or pay later: If you owe money, you'll owe it sooner — the IRS will let you know if you need to write a check just that much faster. A paper filing can buy you some time.

Security: While electronic tax records are convenient … they're also a massive security risk. It's one more file on your computer that could conceivably be stolen by a hacker, so some consideration to your computer security should be made. If you file electronically through a third-party preparer, then you have to trust that tax firm to keep your information safe.