The Internal Revenue Service announced that both its e-file and Free File programs are now accepting taxpayer returns.The agency is continuing its push to have taxpayers elect to file their returns electronically, boasting that users who e-file and choose direct deposit can receive their refund in half the normal time. All return information in protected through encryption and taxpayers will receive acknowledgement within 48 hours that the IRS has accepted the return.

Taxpayers may use IRS e-file through their tax preparer, over-the-counter software or Internet programs. While the IRS does not charge for e-filing, some preparers and software manufactures may charge a fee. Last year, more than 73 million tax returns, nearly 54 percent of all returns, were filed electronically.

Meanwhile, the IRS Free File program, a partnership between the IRS and private software manufacturers accessible through www.IRS.gov, is offering free tax prep and e-filing services for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $52,000, or less -- a requirement that 95 million taxpayers, about 70 percent of all taxpayers, meet.

Among the changes and new features of this year’s program:

  • Taxpayers will be able to use Free File to request the Telephone Excise Tax Refund. Taxpayers can either request the standard amount, which ranges from $30 to $60, or the actual amount;
  • Two companies will offer Free File in Spanish;
  • Participants will no longer offer refund anticipation loans and other ancillary products;
  • Some providers will offer filing of state returns for free; and,
  • Taxpayers can use Free File to file Form 4868, “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File.”

The Free File Alliance selects its own membership, and all members must meet the IRS’ high standards for security and privacy. More than 3.9 million taxpayers used Free File last year.

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