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What is Electronic Filing?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Electronic filing, also referred to as e-file, is the alternative to filing paper tax forms. It’s often a preferred method because taxpayers can have faster confirmation of tax forms received, as well as quicker refund payments. Electronic filing is often more accurate than paper returns because software is used to perform calculations, which helps eliminate human error. Local and national tax agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, encourage and accept tax forms filed electronically as well as online payments of any taxes owed. These agencies often provide methods on their websites to e-file taxes for free.

The ability to file taxes at any time is often appealing to taxpayers, especially if the tax return deadlines are imminent. Electronic filing is usually available to taxpayers seven days a week at any hour. The alternative is for taxpayers to mail paper returns. Doing so often requires mailing the return at a certain time in order to receive the proper post stamp date. In this scenario, there is no opportunity to receive a quick confirmation from the tax agency that the taxes have been received and the forms were properly completed. When taxpayers e-file, they are often notified of errors and the need to resubmit tax forms.

Taxpayers can e-file returns directly with the tax agencies or with the help of a tax preparation service. For example, small business accountants can prepare and e-file taxes on behalf of self-employed or business taxpayers for a fee, as long as they are an authorized provider. Taxpayers who meet certain minimum requirements and who need to file personal tax forms can take advantage of volunteer income tax assistance, which can prepare and e-file taxes for free. There is also web-based and desktop tax software that people can pay for and utilize to prepare and e-file taxes on their own. Most software programs walk the taxpayer through preparing the necessary forms step by step, and upon the taxpayer’s request, the program e-files the taxes with the appropriate tax agencies.

When taxpayers e-file their taxes, they can often choose to receive a direct deposit of tax refunds or pay taxes owed using a direct debit withdrawal. Tax payments are often not required to be submitted at the same time of electronic filing unless the taxes are immediately due. Otherwise, a taxpayer can pay and file forms separately. If the taxes are due, then it is to the taxpayer’s benefit to e-file to get the payments in on time and avoid penalties.

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