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For tax returns, ignore the snail and save the stamp

Transmitting personal data through e-filing may actually be safer than traditional mail.


SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) — When sending personal information to the Internal Revenue Service, which method feels safer to you: traditional snail mail or electronic submission?

If you answered electronic submission — such as e-filing — you’re among a growing number of people in the United States becoming more comfortable with filing taxes and sending personal information via computer and online.

A few years ago, the IRS actually established a mandate to have 80% of consumers e-filing.

“And they recently surpassed that goal,” says Julie Miller, director of public relations and social media at Intuit’s TurboTax.

According to the IRS, 89% of 2011 tax returns were e-filed.

Miller and others argue that transmitting personal data through e-filing may actually be safer than traditional mail, which can be opened by anyone.

“I guess there are people out there still who just think ‘I’m not sending information that way,” Miller says. “But mail is not all that secure. Snail mail would actually concern me more than sending information directly to the IRS online.”

For the holdout skeptics, who still worry about having personal and financial information stored electronically, it’s important to note that tax preparers such as H&R Block and TurboTax are licensed by the IRS as official e-file transmitters, Miller says. That means they have made a commitment to security and privacy for their customers and that the personal and financial information they transmit to the IRS is encrypted, safeguarding the information.

Not only does H&R Block use secure servers when transmitting data, says H&R Block Product Specialist Heather Watts, but the IRS receives the information in a secure environment as well. She had advice for people filing via a public computer, such as in a public library.

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“The biggest tip or advice is if you’re doing your taxes yourself in a public space: Make sure you clear any history off that computer,” Watts says.

Watts also cautioned people who are filing taxes from a home computer over Wi-Fi to make sure that Wi-Fi connection is secure.

“A lot of people have not secured their Wi-Fi,” Watts says. “That’s a good security measure to take regardless of whether you’re doing your taxes or anything else online.”

As for the best time to send your return if you e-file to get your refund fastest — well, there is no right or wrong time, according to Miller and Watts.

“The IRS began processing returns in mid- to late January. They take them through Oct. 15. So there isn’t a particular time that gets you a better deal,” Miller says.


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