Listen, it's only those rare, few mathematically minded folks who love order, penmanship and paperwork that actually love sitting down to fill out their tax returns on paper. And the Internal Revenue Service is adamant that e-filing will save us some April headaches. To hear some tell it, e-filing is like having a tax-genius robot personally poring over your financials to catch every mistake or benefit.
And in some ways, that's not so far off. The IRS claims that 20 percent of hand-written tax returns contain mistakes, compared to 1 percent of e-filed returns [source: IRS]. And keep in mind that it's not just your deduction for "business martinis" that causes the IRS to take a second look at your return. If you're writing illegibly or forget to sign a form, your paperwork will necessitate closer scrutiny [source: Fioravante]. E-filing will guarantee your horrible handwriting isn't what's making Uncle Sam suspicious.
One of the biggest advantages of e-filing is speed. Returns are processed in a staggeringly fast 24-28 hours if you're working digitally, while a mailed return has to plod along and sit on a few shelves. This means that a refund for an e-filed tax return is paid right quick; the IRS estimates nine out of 10 taxpayers see a refund in less than 21 days if e-filing [source: Greene-Lewis]. Don't forget that you're also assured your return is being processed if you're using e-file; use the mail and you're crossing your fingers it got to the IRS, unless you're paying for a certified service.
But not everyone agrees that e-filing is going to leave you less vulnerable to an audit. The IRS uses an algorithm to watch for red flags on returns; time doesn't allow for every handwritten form to go through it. Of course, it's pretty simple to run each and every digital return through the math [source: Fioravante]. Some would even argue that the big speed advantage is working for the IRS and not the taxpayer: Although you get your refund sooner, don't forget that means that they're immediately scouring your finances.
In a lot of ways, e-filing will save you time, but whether that saves money by avoiding an audit is still a bit of a mystery.
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