How to File Your Taxes on Paper

Tax season is a stressful period for many Americans. Collecting the necessary documents, tracking down employers for any missing information, figuring out which deductions and credits you’re eligible for—it can be quite an undertaking. And that’s not even the main event!  When it comes to actually filing your taxes, there are a number of different ways you can do so. Many taxpayers opt to file taxes virtually, but there are some situations in which electronic filing may not be possible. If you’re facing the challenge of filing your taxes on paper, we’re here to help. Read on to learn how to paper file your taxes taxes accurately and with ease. 

Paper Filing vs E-Filing 

Once upon a time, all taxes were filed on paper. American taxpayers painstakingly recorded every last number onto good old fashioned paper, placed it in an envelope, and mailed it to the IRS. These days, however, almost all taxes are filed online through what is known as e-filing. In fact, about 90% of taxpayers electronically file their taxes. E-filing your taxes can be faster and easier than filing by mail, and may lead to more accuracy than filing taxes on paper. Many e-filing services offer guided filing, which prompts you with questions about your life, income, and more, and then directs you to the corresponding forms.  In the event that you receive a tax refund, e-filing also helps you get that money more quickly. The IRS quotes a 3-week turnaround on your tax refund when you file electronically and opt for the direct deposit of your return. Paper filing, on the other hand, takes significantly more time to process at about a 2 month turnaround time. 

When To File Paper Taxes 

Considering all of the benefits of e-filing, you may find yourself asking, why paper file at all? For a small portion of people, the answer may simply be that they prefer paper filing, or may not have the means to electronically file.  For many paper filers, however, the answer is that they didn’t have a choice. There are a number of circumstances in which the IRS will not allow a taxpayer to file their taxes electronically, and paper taxes must be mailed to the IRS. Let’s review the most common scenarios that require paper filing: 

Your E-file Return Is Rejected 

If you’ve attempted to e-file your return and your submission gets rejected, you’ll need to file by paper instead. E-file rejections can happen for a number of inconsequential reasons. It’s possible that your address was spelled wrong or the information you’ve submitted doesn’t match what the IRS has on file. But a rejected e-file can also be a sign of a larger issue, like your Social Security number was stolen and someone else has already filed using it.  If your e-file return is rejected, you should receive information from the IRS as to why, as well as steps to take to correct the issue. If you’re required to paper file an amended return, you’ll have ten calendar days to get it back to the IRS along with an explanation as to the mistake. 

You Need To Send An Amended Return

Speaking of amended returns, there’s all sorts of reasons you may need to make a change to your tax return, and it must be done by mail. Generally speaking, you’ll need to file an amended return if you identify any mistake on your tax return after you e-file. But mistakes don’t just include misspelling or misquoting numbers; they could also include the omission of information altogether. Let’s say you finish e-filing your taxes, and then receive an additional tax document that you didn’t expect. You’ll need to paper file an amended tax return that includes information from the latest document.  Amended returns are filed using IRS Form 1040X. First, complete the necessary information including your name, address, filing status, and more. Then, you’ll have space to correct any errors on your original tax return. The structure of IRS Form 1040X is pretty simple. In Column A, you’ll report the figure originally provided in your tax return. In Column B, you’ll report the amount of increase or decrease. In Column C, you report the correct figure. You’ll also need to complete Part III, which is the Explanation of Changes, to let the IRS know why you’ve amended your return.  Tax returns can be amended at any time, but there is a limitation on amendments if they result in a larger tax refund from the IRS. If you’re looking to make a change that earns you more money, you have up to three years to file the amendment. 

You Live Outside Of the US 

Any US taxpayer who lives outside of the US is required to mail their tax return. Likewise, all US taxpayers who work outside of the US must mail their tax returns as well. 

Common Questions About Paper Filing Taxes 

Paper filing your taxes can feel like a thing of the past for many taxpayers. If you have questions about paper filing your taxes, you’re not alone. Let’s review some of the most common. 

How do I mail my tax return? 

If you live within the US, once you’ve printed and completed your tax return, you should mail your tax return to the corresponding address for your state and your specific tax document. Ensure that you are using the correct amount of postage by weighing your envelope, as most tax returns are many pages long and insufficient postage will cause your envelope to be returned to you. Finally, make sure that your return is postmarked by the deadline for your filing date. 

How does the IRS process paper tax returns?

As with all tax returns, paper tax returns are processed in the order that they are received. If you opted to provide an email address with your paper return, you may receive notice from the IRS of when you should expect your tax return. Once the IRS has reviewed your return and ensured that no errors were found, they begin to process your return. They will then determine whether you owe them or they owe you. In the case of the former, you’ll receive a check from the IRS in the mail. In the case of the latter, you must pay the IRS the difference by April 15th. 

Are paper tax returns more likely to be audited? 

There’s no evidence to suggest that the way you file your tax return has any effect on your likelihood of being audited. Things that may trigger an audit from the IRS are large discrepancies in your reported income and their data on you, using a notoriously questionable tax preparer, claiming large charitable donations, and more. 

Tips For Paper Filing 

If you’ve opted to paper file your taxes, there are a few things you should keep in mind. 

Double check absolutely everything. 

One of the benefits of e-filing your taxes is that you have the fallback of electronic verification to catch any errors you may make. When you file your taxes by paper, there’s simply a lot more opportunity to make a mistake. Now, mistakes aren’t the end of the world and can be amended (see amending your taxes above), but they can be an unnecessary hassle. 

Be sure your address is correct. 

That’s where the IRS will mail your tax refund, or any requests for additional information, etc. If you’re planning on moving anytime soon, opt to use a P.O. box or a family member’s address, instead. 

Put your name and social security number on every single page. 

One of the difficulties of paper filing is that it leaves room for human error beyond your own. To be sure that none of your important tax information is lost or misplaced while being processed, include your name and social security number on every single page, so that it can all be tracked back to you.  If you’re going to be paper filing your taxes this year, don’t go at it alone. Our tax experts can help you to ensure that you’ve got every paper in place and that your taxes are done correctly the first time around, so that you can sleep soundly. Contact us today to learn more about how Community Tax can help you with your tax preparation needs.