How the IRS E-file Process Works

What Is E-filing?

E-filing typically comes in two waves every tax season. First are the early filers, who want their refund as soon as possible. Next are the last-minute filers, who usually owe money and want to wait until the last minute to press that "send" button. For both, e-filing makes things easier.

If you have access to a computer and the Internet, you can file your taxes electronically. The IRS allows you to file Form 1040, Form 1040A, Form 1040EZ or Form 1040-SS (PR) via e-file. You fill out your tax form on a computer, and send the information to the IRS. The transmission process is safe and encrypted, so you don't have to worry about your personal information being compromised or stolen.

Many companies offer software to walk you through the e-file process. Some are free and some are available for purchase. The IRS tests and approves several retail software programs, so you should do some comparisons and research to find the one that's right for you. Certain taxpayers are eligible for a free service called Free File, which we'll talk about later. The IRS doesn't charge a fee for e-filing, but the software you use may charge a fee, so find that out up front.

E-filing software is specifically written to accurately calculate the math on tax forms and ask you the right questions to ensure you fill out your forms correctly. Everything is right there for you -- your expenses and deductions and all the current information you need. The software is automatically updated with the most recent tax forms and information straight from the IRS. Your computer does the calculating for you, and you can even save the form partway through, walk away, and finish it up later.

After e-filing, the IRS typically issues a refund within three weeks of your filing date. If you owe money, you can pay electronically and receive immediate notification when your payment is received. Or you can go the usual route and mail a check or money order. Sound good? Find out next how to do it.