Text messaging for income tax filing

We notice that a growing portion of our tax clients prefer to communicate by text message over other methods like live in-person, telephone, fax, email, and video call. It is clear that texting is the #1 tax communication method now, exceeding the combined use of all other methods. The IRS and state tax authorities do not specifically address the use of text message communications so this leaves it up to us to interpret various positions.

IRS standards

With regard to the signature required for the most common filings IRS says “The taxpayer may return the completed Form 8878 or Form 8879 to the ERO by hand delivery, U.S. mail, private delivery service, fax, email or an Internet website.” There is no mention of text message. We interpret this guidance to mean that a manually signed document then scanned or photographed and delivered by text message to meet the same requirements. (This blog post does not address electronic signature capture technology methods; that is a different topic).

We use the same document handling standard for representation forms including a Form 2848 Power or Attorney, fully disclosed to various IRS agents in real time while working on cases, and IRS has never objected.

Industry standards

Consensus industry sources indicate that text message is at least as secure as fax and email. Apple’s iMessage, available only from one Apple device to another, appears to be the most secure, including safety from possible federal government prying eyes. We use Apple devices for mobile device text messaging (my cell phone line with the 856 area code) and are generally satisfied with that level of encrypted text messaging. We also use Google technology for office line texting (the office line with the 302 area code number) where text and voice messages are apparently stored on a Google server. We do NOT recommend using a Google Voice line for sending private information due to the details of the user agreement and overall lack of confidence in how that data is stored and used.

Email and text enabled phone required

Separately, aside from this specific topic of discussion, we still require remote tax service clients to have and use a private personal email address and text enabled phone to meet various other industry security standards (including two step security protocols that use email and text message for identity confirmations) that are not otherwise directly related to IRS or tax communications. This is simply because virtually all other technology platforms we rely on now use two tier security verification protocol using email and text message.

Perhaps more importantly, I just want to be sure that I am able to reach you when your attention is needed for important tax and accounting issues. As a practical matter, today’s business communications require a combination of electronic communication platforms where voice, text and email, usually used in combination, will dominate our future.

Update: Subsequent to the publication of this blog post I discontinued the use of fax communications in our offices.


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