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I have a PDF of a 1040 filled out. Why can't I just email it to the IRS? Why do I have to find a company offering e-file, read their privacy and terms of service, fill out a form to register an account, and I don't know what else because I decided at that point it's easier to just print it out and mail it?

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Free File Fillable Forms is the official way to submit your tax form for free electronically to the IRS. If you already have a PDF of your 1040 filled out, you can use Free File Fillable Forms to type this information in and submit it electronically.

As to why the IRS does not simply accept PDF tax returns via e-mail, it is for security reasons. E-mail is not secure, so by e-mailing your tax return you would be making it vulnerable to being intercepted and even potentially changed before it got to the IRS. In addition, there would be no way for the IRS to verify that it actually came from you, and it would be completely cost free for crooks to submit as many fake tax returns to the IRS as they wanted.

Mailing in your tax return is not a big deal, either. I still mail mine in every year.


Responses to the OP's follow-up questions in the comments:

  • Despite the fact that the design of the Free File Fillable Forms website looks a bit amateurish, it is in fact an official IRS service. I don't know exactly why it is served on "freefilefillableforms.com" and not "irs.gov".
  • Your question above is asking about e-mailing a PDF to the IRS, and my answer explains why they cannot accept e-mail submissions. They could, perhaps, accept PDF uploads from IRS.gov, but they instead have chosen to accept returns filed through freefilefillableforms.com, requiring you to type your information in on their site. By making you jump through a few hoops to submit your return (which you should theoretically only have to do once a year), they make things much more difficult for a scammer, who would have to jump through the same hoops every time they wanted to submit a fraudulent return. If it is too easy to submit your one return, it is perhaps too easy for a scammer to submit thousands of returns.
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  • What security features does submitting through HTTPS at IRS.gov with identity verification lack, that e-file and a paper form have? You just gave me link to a website I know nothing about. Clicking on random links is more secure than submitting things through the IRS website? What is "Free File Fillable Forms"? Is a specific software? A class of software defined by some standard? Why doesn't the IRS just host the software, instead of forcing people to use a tax company as middle man? Apr 2, 2018 at 0:45
  • @Acccumulation I have expanded my answer to address your follow-up questions.
    – Ben Miller
    Apr 2, 2018 at 2:07
  • "E-mail is not secure" -- What about PGP signed emails? May 17, 2020 at 8:29
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It's pretty straightforward, really. You will be actually filing instead of "agreeing to use a data interchange service in lieu of filing". Filing has legal force, which is why they stand on the formality of paper. Not least, IRS cannot reject a filing as they can with e-file, they can only disagree, so you can't be tardy with real filing.

1 -- Print the form.

2 -- write your Social Security number on all pages that ask, and sign it.

3 -- Put it in an envelope

4 -- put stamps on it

5 -- Leave it for your mailman to take if secure, drop in any mailbox, or take it to the Post Office.

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If you are overseas, unfamiliar with mailing, have full sheet-sized envelope, or more than 3 sheets of paper, you may need help or more than the normal single stamp. If that's the case:

  • Get in line and take it to a postal clerk. It'll be less busy on weekdays, earlier in the day, and in sleepy small-town post offices.
  • Weigh the package yourself and ask your nation's post office website (e.g. USPS.com) what the postage will be from there. You are allowed to overstamp it, so if you have $1.39 postage just use 3 common stamps.
  • In the US, take it to the post office and buy your postage at one of the machines that weigh your envelope and has a dimension chart.
  • You can also consider services like Certified Mail that will prove the IRS received it. You must pay extra for the green paper card: the web-based delivery confirmation service is worthless because it's only archived for 90 days, and IRS disputes are slower than that.

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