Hey there, this story refers to the 2011 tax year. For the most up-to-date information covering the 2012 tax year, check out How to File Your Tax Return.
Thanks to technology, filing your return is getting easier and easier. But there are still some nuances to know. Find out which way you should file—electronically or by mail—and how to do it.
Electronic or Paper Filing?
E-filing is the preferred way to file, because it is faster, more convenient and more secure than paper filing.
Think about it: If you e-file, all your information is automatically entered into the system, while a paper return has to be retyped by an IRS employee, which introduces more opportunity for errors. If you e-file, you'll get confirmation within 48 hours that your return was received. You can get your refund (if you have one) deposited directly to your account more quickly, typically in as few as ten days. For e-file users, you also have more payment options, including setting up an automatic payment withdrawal date for any day before the April due date. You can also pay by paper check or even by credit card!
However, there are some instances where you are not able to file an electronic return. You must paper file if:
- You're married, but filing a separate return, and you live in a community property state
- You are claiming a dependent who has already been claimed by someone else
- You are filing forms that require paper documentation. For example, the first-time homebuyer credit requires paper filing
- You file before e-filing begins (it started on January 17th this year) or after it ends (October)
How to File an Electronic Return
There are several ways to file electronically:
If you're paying a tax professional to prepare your return, they will e-file for you. Many are required by law to e-file, but still make sure to mention it to them so you get your refund faster.
If you are using commercial tax software, e-filing is included. Just submit through the software when you are done. Incidentally, e-filing is including in the free H&R Block tax package every participant in our Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp receives.
If you're preparing your own return, you can file for free. Those who have an AGI under $57,000 can use what the IRS calls Free File. If your AGI is over $57,000, you can use fillable forms, which are electronic versions of the IRS's paper forms and are still free.
Make Filing Easier
Every LearnVester who signs up for our free Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp gets access to H&R Block's basic filing software, for free.Sign Up
How to File a Paper Return
If you need to file a paper form, or just prefer paper forms and don't mind the longer wait for your refund, you can do it the old-fashioned way. The IRS will not mail you your forms ahead of time like they used to, so first you'll need to pick and download your forms. Find out which ones you need here.
When you're ready to send in your return, make sure your name and Social Security Number are on the front and back of every page. Make a photocopy of your return for your records. Then, check the IRS for where to send your return, according to which state you live in.
We recommend you send your return by registered or certified mail. You will be able to track its progress and see that it was delivered. Make sure the registered date is on or before April 17, 2012 which, due to a weekend and a holiday, is this year's filing date.
You can also send by private delivery service. Use an IRS-approved one such as DHL, FedEx or UPS, but beware that private delivery services cannot mail to post office boxes, so you must use the addresses in this list. Whichever mailing service you use, save your receipt.
More From LearnVest on Taxes
Do you need more time to file taxes? Here's how to file an extension.
If you're a homeowner, we tell you everything you need to know about your taxes.
Rapid refunds sound nice, but should you really get one? Find out.