The Internal Revenue Service has opened its electronic filing season for all filers except those who must file five forms affected by the alternative minimum tax.

Taxpayers who need to use the five forms (5695, 8396, 8859, 8863 and 1040A Schedule 2) will have to wait until Feb. 11 to file. The IRS said it received nearly 80 million electronically filed tax returns last year, or almost 57 percent of all tax returns.

The agency is encouraging taxpayers to take advantage of its Free File program, which provides free federal tax prep and electronic filing. The program, offered in conjunction with the Free File Alliance, a group of 19 tax software companies, is available to taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $54,000 or less.

The IRS estimates that 70 percent of all taxpayers, or about 97 million taxpayers, can take advantage of Free File. However, use of the Free File program has been on the decline, falling from 5.12 million taxpayers in 2005 to 3.3 million last year. The IRS has expanded Free File this year, offering the service in Spanish from two companies.

The IRS also noted that some Free File Alliance members are offering free online tax prep and filing for state returns in addition to federal returns. However, the IRS emphasized that taxpayers should use the Web site to access the authentic Free File program. Otherwise they could end up paying fees. A class-action lawsuit against the Free File Alliance over such fees was announced in November.

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