Fewer taxpayers took advantage of the Internal Revenue Service's free electronic tax-filing service in 2007 than in previous years, according to a new audit report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. In 2005, a record 5.12 million taxpayers used the Free File Program. That number fell to 3.9 million in 2006, in large part due to a new requirement that limited eligibility for the program to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of about $50,000 a year or less. In testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee's Oversight Subcommittee last year, Inspector General J. Russell George expressed concern about the eligibility limitations, which he said, could contribute to a significant slowing of the growth in electronic filing. Although no further adjustments were made to the program in 2007, as of April 14, auditors found that only 3.3 million taxpayers filed returns using the free service -- a decline of 4.7 percent below the same period last year. "It is imperative that the IRS carefully examine the reasons this free service is not being used by more taxpayers," George said. "The IRS must review its marketing strategy to better target taxpayers who file paper returns even though they are eligible for this program. Equally important, the IRS must ensure that the software it promotes on its Web site provides taxpayers with accurately calculated tax returns," he said. The decline in the Free File Program comes at a time when the IRS is under pressure to increase the number of taxpayers who file electronically. In 1998, Congress established a goal for the IRS to have 80 percent of all federal tax and information returns filed electronically by the end of 2007. The Free File Program was one of several initiatives designed to help meet that goal, which is unlikely to be fulfilled this year.
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