What Is E-Filing and Am I Eligible?

March 21, 2012 by  Filed under: Taxes 

E-filing stands for electronic filing and allows you to submit your tax return online instead of printing it out and mailing it to the IRS or, even more traditionally, filling out paper forms by hand.

If you’re worried that e-filing is somehow not secure, or puts your personal information at risk, don’t be. During the 2011 tax season, almost 100 million people e-filed an individual tax return, roughly 70% of all returns filed. And since the IRS began the program in 1990, nearly 1 billion returns have been e-filed with the IRS. It is completely safe and secure. As the IRS notes, “e-file is now the norm,” and the agency encourages everyone to submit their return electronically.

The IRS now recommends that you e-file because it is easier, faster, and more accurate than paper filing. Online tax software takes much of the hassle out of completing your return. The IRS’s e-file system can detect errors in your return immediately and give you a chance to correct them before the return is accepted by the IRS. Plus, e-file eliminates the possibility of it getting lost in the mail and dramatically cuts down on processing time once it gets to the IRS.

Another major benefit of e-filing is that you get your refund much faster. Generally, e-filers who also request that their refund be direct deposited into their bank account get their refund money in as little as 1-3 weeks and e-filers who request a paper check will receive in 3-4 weeks. Paper filers, by contrast, may have to wait up to 6 or even 8 weeks for their money.

Everyone is eligible to e-file their current year return. Generally, e-filing begins in mid-to-late January and it ends on October 15, the day tax returns that received an extension are due. Note that though you can still e-file your taxes after the April 15 (or in the case of the 2012 tax season, April 17) tax deadline, they will be considered late. Unless you request an extension from the IRS, penalties and interest will begin to accrue on them. If you want to file your return after October 15, you will have to paper file it.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to e-file tax returns from a previous year. The IRS still requires all late prior year returns to be paper filed. Even if you use an online service to complete your return, you will still have to print out the return and all the accompanying forms and mail them in to the IRS.

Curran Boomer is a fervent devotee of all things taxes who has helped many people e-file 2011 taxes.

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