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This is more of a question of pure curiosity and convenience. Why do 1099s have to be submitted on the special paper forms and not just printed out in multiple copies or purely digitally? Everything else can be edited or printed, but a 1099 is special requiring special printers and software even for a professional tax preparer.

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You can print them on any IRS-approved paper, you don't have to use pre-printed forms.

The IRS publishes specifications for paper that is approved for use for these kinds of forms (109*, W*, etc).

Here's the reason why it is important:

Even the slightest deviation can result in incorrect scanning, and may affect money amounts reported for employees.

Note that some portions of these forms are in different color (1099-MISC copy A). This is important, and using incorrect color will affect the IRS OCR mechanisms.

Forms for individuals are less complicated with regards to technical specifications, because individuals must file them, and as such any complication will unnecessarily burden the citizenry. All the 109*, W* etc forms are not legally required to be filed by all citizens. You're only required to file them if you chose to do business, or chose to employ others. As such, using professional software and special forms is a cost of doing your business, and not a tax as it would be had it been mandatory to everyone.

Mistakes in individual forms due to OCR failure or something else will be noticed by the taxpayers (less/more refund, etc) or through the internal matching and cross-check.

However, forms 109* and W* feed that matching and cross-check system and are considered source of truth by it, and as such their processing must be much more reliable and precise.

  • Thank you for your clear answer. I seems like all of these could be alleviated by filing digitally so scanning wouldn't be necessary. Is this just a case of the IRS being out of date? All hard copies seems like a massive inefficiency. – yaymuffins Jan 30 '16 at 7:14
  • @yaymuffins 1099 can most definitely be efiled. – littleadv Jan 30 '16 at 7:25
  • Almost: pub 1141 specifies paper, ink, fonts and exact layout for W-2 and W-3; pub 1179 does so for 109* and a few others. It's layout and possibly fonts that (usually?) require special software. +@yaymuffins you are indeed allowed and encouraged to file electronically, and required if you do more than 250 forms per type per year; see pub 1220 for 109*, but W-2/W-3 go to SSA not IRS so for those look on www.SSA.gov under "employers". You have much more flexibility on "statements" to recipients aka copy B; basically just use the correct box number for each data value. – dave_thompson_085 Jan 30 '16 at 20:42

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