Tax Luddite
February 26, 2013 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Should I e-file my taxes? Specific computer phobia (or phobia of the IRS) is involved.

I'm not usually a technophobe, and I'm not usually flummoxed by computer programs and websites (my job is IT-related and I am relatively young). But I am afraid of filing my taxes electronically. (I am American, so if you are British, you can't help me much.)

I know people who either (a) messed up their e-file or (b) found that they owed much more than they had thought. I have a phobia that even though I've figured my taxes on paper, printing out reams of forms and instructions and reading them all carefully, and found my taxes to be relatively low, if I e-file I will find that I owe thousands of dollars or something equally insane. I also have self-employed income for which I don't have 1099-type documentation.

I lost a whole Saturday to doing my taxes on paper and I don't want to lose another day (or days) of free time to figuring out the e-filing. I don't have complex enough financials or make enough money to afford to hire a tax professional; even Turbotax would probably be a waste of money.

I have the impression the IRS and state tax bureaux no longer want you to file on paper anymore. They don't send out paper forms anymore. They'll still accept paper files, but they're definitely not encouraging it.

Getting my tax refund sooner is not an inducement, as it's very small this year due to SE income in addition to my regular job.
posted by bad grammar to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, our taxes are pretty simple: married & filing jointly. I LOVE TurboTax. I feel confident because the software is easy to use and it walks you through every possible deduction. You can try using it and then cancel at the end if you don't feel good about it. We have been using it for many years and, come to think of it, so has my mom.

I do not work for TurboxTax or have any financial interest in the company. Also, I am not a tax professional of any kind.
posted by michellenoel at 5:40 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You already did your taxes... and you want to know if... you should do them again.

I'm going with "MY GOD NO."

Not efiling is just fine. Sure, they prefer efile, as it likely saves them money. So what? They're not going to do away with paper filing anytime soon. Efiling is easier for some of us. It is, apparently, not easier for you. That is just fine.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:42 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're not going to owe any more or less depending on how you file. If you find out you owe thousands of dollars when you e-file, you owed it when you paper filed also, you just didn't know it.

Do what you're comfortable with.
posted by odinsdream at 5:43 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you make less than $57,000 you are eligible for free file with free software (like TurboTax) through the IRS. That should assuage some of your fears about transposing a number or something.

But like RJ Reynolds says, if you are already done with them, why not just mail them in? No big deal.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:45 PM on February 26, 2013

My taxes are not as complicated as yours, I have e-filed 1099 and w-2 in the same year, including mileage and supply deductions online. It was super easy.

But if you've already done it . . . then don't do it again. Save e-file for next year. Fiddle around with TurboTax to see how you like it sometime in the next year.
posted by Garm at 5:46 PM on February 26, 2013

I efile through Free Fillable Forms. It is exactly like doing it on paper, except (a) it's doing it on a computer, and (b) the forms do some basic adding and subtracting for you.

We've never screwed them up any more than we screwed up paper forms, and we never had some weird unexpected result.

The benefit is that we get our refund super-fast. Like, less than two weeks.
posted by muddgirl at 5:46 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do what works for you. You've already done your taxes and if you're confident with your work, why do them again? Another thing is that even if you use the software, you don't actually have to eFile. You can just print the forms and mail them in.

I use HR Block for free and I found that I was missing out on tax credits because it nagged me into looking it up. Instead of thinking how eFiling might make your life harder, think how it might make this process easier, faster, and more profitable. It took me like 15 minutes to do my return this year, and I have 1099 type income (but no actual 1099) and W2s too.
posted by sm1tten at 5:49 PM on February 26, 2013

I haven't filed paper taxes since e-file became an option. Nothing has ever been messed up. Not even the year that I had wacky multiple state tax returns due to income in California, New York State, and New York City. It's fast and super easy. I did my taxes in 10 minutes this year. You'll never have to spend all day doing them again. Also, I filed on January 26 and got my return on February 31st.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:58 PM on February 26, 2013

Do what's comfortable for you.

For me, that's getting my taxes filed professionally by an Enrolled Agent. My dad and I go through the same individual, and I pay for both of us. In Dad's case, his taxes are already complex, and he doesn't have a computer - so the EA talks with him on the phone. For me, I have some extreme anxiety regarding taxes due to some bad tax advice I got from a 'friend' in the '90s, which resulted in an IRS audit and fine for unpaid taxes. (The IRS was in the right, and they're paid off). Consequently. Since I can pay a professional to handle my taxes for me, I do.

Some of my friends tease me about it, but you know? It makes me feel better. Some treat themselves to a massage, others to a fine steak and scotch, I buy myself tax preparation.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:11 PM on February 26, 2013

I e-file, I find it super easy and they direct deposit your refund. Look into it next year, it makes taxes fun!
posted by vrakatar at 6:12 PM on February 26, 2013

TurboTax, e-file and don't look back. Except TurboTax charges you something like 20 bucks to e-file your state taxes. So print those out and mail them, instead.
posted by beagle at 6:12 PM on February 26, 2013

I think you might be assuming a connection where there is none. Tax mistakes come in the following flavors:

- Not properly paying taxes throughout the year, or not properly calculating savings required for taxes for the year. This has nothing to do with how you file and everything to do with how you plan.

- Forgetting to file something. Easier, in my experience, to do on paper than with software. Still not an e-file problem.

- Getting caught doing something shady. Easier to be shady on paper than with software.

- Using the software incorrectly. Hard to do, unless you have a lot of money and a lot of complicated taxes.

- Using paper incorrectly. Easier to do than with software.

- Screwing up e-file so badly it doesn't file. Hard to do if you use software, easier to do if you do it on paper and then e-file yourself.

Only the final problem is caused by e-filing itself. And I speak as someone who has had a number of tax surprises of the lay-down-and-cry variety, all of which are attributable to option 1 above. For several years, we had a CPA do our taxes, and then came home and re-did them in TurboTax (which the CPA used in the first place) and got the same results.

As many people said, you can get tax software for free or cheap. It will take you a couple of hours, tops, to re-do in TT and e-file, if you want to check your work. But if you absolutely positively refuse to e-file, you can keep doing it on paper until that stops being an option.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:20 PM on February 26, 2013

How would eFiling cause you to owe more money? It doesn't.

Agree with other posters that if you've already done your taxes, there's no reason to eFile this year. I don't think you are totally insane to be wary of tax programs...they certainly can have bugs. I used Free Fillable Forms a couple years ago and at the time it had a bug where if you were typing fast, numbers would be entered in a different order than the one you entered them in (so, like, if you typed 19 it might enter 91). That was real fun.

But, in general, I figure the software is less likely to screw up the math or put the wrong address on the envelope or make some other equally boneheaded mistake than I am (especially if you let it auto import your W2s and 1099s to avoid data entry errors), so I use Turbotax, and make sure to check its work.

If you're really paranoid about the eFile process itself, you can call the IRS after eFiling to confirm they received your return. [I've done this, after hearing reports that some versions of TurboTax were not correctly sending specific 1040 attachments...I called the IRS, they confirmed they got the attachment.]
posted by phoenixy at 6:29 PM on February 26, 2013

i've been using h&r block or turbo tax to efile for many years. they've walked me through every step, they've given me updates, and the estimates always equaled the final result. do what you're comfortable with, but i think your fears are of the unknown, not anything specifically wrong with efiling.
posted by nadawi at 6:55 PM on February 26, 2013

The IRS also offers paper-style filing online. Ie it's a simulation of doing your taxes on paper, but at the end of it, you have the option to either print out the resulting paper forms and mail them as usual, or submit them electronically when you're ready (e-file them).

They're the same forms and the same numbers as your usual method, either way.

Maybe this is your way to dip your toe in the convenience of e-file without worrying about some backend algorithm alerting the IRS to something you don't know about?
posted by anonymisc at 7:00 PM on February 26, 2013

I know exactly what you mean. I refused to e-file for years. Why? Because I was good at doing my taxes by hand on paper. I knew how it worked, and I was used to it. Learning a whole new system was burdensome to me. And that makes no sense-- I am a computer scientist! I have an electronics project sitting on my desk right now!

But there's nothing to fear about efiling-- with free fillable forms, doing your taxes is the exact same thing as doing them by hand, except that it gets submitted and processed a lot faster.

You've already done your taxes, so they're no point to doing them all over again just to efile. Send them in by mail this year. But next year, check out free fillable forms. Trust me-- it's awesome.
posted by deanc at 7:59 PM on February 26, 2013

Personal annecdote. In 1999, the only year I have ever telefiled, I telefiled in South Carolina (I worked for the . In October of last year, their electronic records were compromised back to 1999 (as in 1999-2012 electronic filings) (all e-file and telefile records), and I was notified in January, meaning that had I filed paper forms, I would not have an issue, nor need to police my credit score for the next few years. If for no other reason that it is a pain in the ass, I will never e-file again.

Caveat Emptor.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:08 PM on February 26, 2013

bad grammar: "I know people who either (a) messed up their e-file or (b) found that they owed much more than they had thought. I have a phobia that even though I've figured my taxes on paper, printing out reams of forms and instructions and reading them all carefully, and found my taxes to be relatively low, if I e-file I will find that I owe thousands of dollars or something equally insane"

What you owe is a fact. The forms simply walk you through calculating that number yourself, such that you and the government agree on the final tally. If that number is thousands of dollars, wouldn't you rather you know you owe thousands now, rather than when the IRS comes knocking? And wouldn't the defense of "TurboTax thought it was fine" be better than nothing when the auditors decide you owe a lot more tax than you filed for? Moreover, online filing tools give you a final step to review the return before submitting it. So if your number is way off, you'll get a several chances to look deeper into the situation.

That said, you've done the work. Right now, you believe you know the true number owed. You could mail it in right now and be done with 2012. I think the correct fear here is that you spend another weekend to get a different number, leaving you helpless to decide which number is the right one. The old saying "a man with two watches never knows what time it is." Just mail the thing off and reconsider your opinion in January.
posted by pwnguin at 12:11 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

had I filed paper forms, I would not have an issue,

I can't believe this. Just like the IRS, South Carolina has a small army of people who enter the data into their computer systems straight from the forms. The news stories about the hack say that anyone who filed a return from 1998 on is at risk. To clarify. It's also not clear that it was the forms themselves or simply the name, address, and banking data the state would presumably use for billing or refunding taxes.
posted by dhartung at 2:08 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can go online and do your taxes on TurboTax, you don't have to pay until you're all done!

So you can walk through the process and see how it works. You can do federal and state there.

I love, love, love TurboTax!

I think e-filing is the way to go. We filed on Jan 28 and I we got our Fed refund on Feb 7, and our State refund on Sunday. Right in the old checking account!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:14 AM on February 27, 2013

I don't really understand the question: if you did your taxes on paper, just mail the damn things in -- you're done, go have a beer.

Who cares what the IRS "wants" you to do; they'll still accept paper forms, so if you did everything on paper, that's fine.

If you do everything in TurboTax or a similar program, then e-filing is pretty simple and probably the easiest way to go. But depending on how much money you make, it can also end up costing money, so plenty of people go through TT or some other computer program and then just print everything out and stick a stamp on it as a final step.

At least in my state, we used to have free e-filing for state taxes regardless of income level, via a webform on a state-run website, but lobbying from the makers of TurboTax and other software programs got it shut down. Fuck those guys: do not pay for e-filing if you're not below the free threshold where you live, it's basically a skeevy, rent-seeking, consumer-screwing scam by well-connected companies, and they do not deserve to be rewarded.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:18 AM on February 27, 2013

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