The 2011 fiscal year tax season will mark more than two decades of the extremely popular and highly successful IRS e-file program. This year, there are more options than ever for the average American to settle up with the IRS in a fast, free, safe and secure manner by using IRS e-file. Since e-filing means filing a paperless tax return, it’s also better for the environment than filing the old fashioned way.
The IRS website provides a great deal of information about the four major ways to electronically file taxes. You can e-file your taxes using any of these options:
- Free File Software
- Free File Fillable Forms
- Commercial Tax Software
- Professional Tax Preparers
Regardless of which process you choose, utilizing e-file can not only save a lot of trees, but can also get the average taxpayer a refund in as little as three weeks.
1. Free File Software
Beginning January 17, 2012, you can use Free File to file your 2011 income tax return. Free File is one of the most popular services simply due to the fact that it is free. There are approximately twenty major software companies within the Free File Alliance that provide no-cost, brand name software to anyone whose adjusted gross income for 2011 was $57,000 or less. This software is available through the IRS website.
If you’ve surpassed the $57,000 limit, there are still many other options available to you.
2. Free File Fillable Forms
Fillable forms are a favorite e-file option for those who are used to filling out the old-style tax forms. These are the exact same forms from the 1040 series (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ) in a convenient, electronic format. There are no income restrictions for using fillable forms. Just like the days of using paper forms, you fill out the electronic form and return it to the IRS; however, instead of mailing it out, which means having to wait for weeks to find out whether or not you made an error, you can simply transmit your data electronically and receive a confirmation number letting you know that the IRS has received your information almost immediately.
Like the Free File software, the Free File fillable forms needed to file your 2011 income tax return also became available on January 17, 2012.
3. Tax Filing Software
Another option that has grown in popularity in recent years is the use of “over-the-counter” tax filing software. This commercially available software can be found at thousands of local retailers nationwide, or through certain online shopping portals. The software is purchased and installed, then used to guide the taxpayer through the process by asking various questions. When the user has finished the walk-through, he can review the information for accuracy and then submit the filing to the IRS with a single click. Using secure channels, the IRS processes the information and returns a tracking number right away, and a refund check or direct deposit can be processed in less than half the time than it used to take.
4. Professional Tax Preparer
The final – and usually easiest – way to e-file your taxes is to visit a local tax professional. Almost all tax accountants and CPAs use e-file to speed up their clients’ returns, and many are required by law to do so. This can sometimes be the most expensive option of the four listed here, as you will be paying to have an actual human prepare your taxes. However, for many this is the most familiar and stress-free option, since having an expert handle the details of your return will likely provide you with the greatest peace of mind.
I seriously don’t believe it’s free for most people, though. I think they do this to get people “in the door” and end up charging some sort of fee for any small thing that makes their return not as “simple” as the ones you get for free.