Even though tax season for individual tax returns has been delayed until January 31, the Internal Revenue Service and the Free File Alliance are opening up free electronic filing for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $58,000 or less.

The Free File Alliance, a coalition of 14 tax software companies that partners with the IRS, launched the 2014 Free File program on Friday. Starting today, every taxpayer with a 2013 adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less can visit http://www.irs.gov/freefile to prepare, complete and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost.

The IRS said the initiative will help people get a jump on their taxes before the Jan. 31 filing season opens. Although taxpayers can now complete and e-file their tax returns, the tax software vendors will hold it until Jan. 31 when the IRS begins accepting individual returns. The IRS announced last year after October’s two-week federal government shutdown that it was delaying the start of the 2014 tax filing season in order to complete the testing of its computer systems.

“Many tax preparers and tax software companies are now open for return preparation, including Free File,” said IRS commissioner John Koskinen in a statement. “If you plan to get a head start on your taxes, remember to e-file. Electronic filing will allow software companies to hold your return and to automatically send it to the IRS on Jan. 31. There is absolutely no advantage to filing by paper. If you want to save money and time, just use Free File to prepare and e-file your federal return at no charge.”

In addition to offering tax services that are available for more than 100 million individuals and families, or an estimated 70 percent of taxpayers, who qualify for the third-party tax software available through Free File, the IRS is also offering basic federal e-filing services with no income limitations through a basic e-filing service, known as Free File Fillable Forms. The service allows taxpayers who are familiar with tax law and need no preparation assistance to complete and file their federal income tax electronically. There are no income limitations to use Free File Fillable Forms, which will be available starting January 31.

“By providing online commercial tax preparation software at no cost, Free File has saved American taxpayers $1.2 billion since it began in 2003,” said Free File Alliance executive director Tim Hugo in a statement. “Free File is the only service that allows users to access and compare free tax software options from more than a dozen top companies. With Free File, industry-leading tax software is all in one place, and it’s all free. This year, we invite all taxpayers making $58,000 or less to visit www.irs.gov/freefile and take the guesswork out of doing their taxes.”

The Free File site provides a list of Free File Alliance member companies and their free tax software offerings. Users can either choose the company that fits their needs or use the “help me find a company” tool.

After selecting a company, users will be transferred to the company’s Web site to prepare, complete and electronically file their federal income tax returns. The service is also available in Spanish.

As Jan. 31 approaches, Koskinen reminded taxpayers that IRS.gov has a range of other information and services to help taxpayers prepare their tax returns.

“Free File is just one of the many services available through IRS.gov to help people with their taxes,” said Koskinen. “Additional services include Where’s My Refund for timely updates on refunds, YouTube videos with quick tax tips, and many other ways of getting information. We encourage taxpayers to explore IRS.gov as tax season approaches.”

Nearly 40 million taxpayers have used Free File since it debuted in 2003.

The IRS noted that the fastest way to get a refund is by combining IRS e-file with direct deposit. Once the IRS begins processing returns, it expects to issue more than 90 percent of refunds in fewer than 21 days.

Taxpayers can check the online “Where’s My Refund?” tool for personalized refund information based on the processing of their 2013 tax return. They can start checking on the status of their return within 24 hours after the IRS accepts the e-filed return. Updates to refund status are made once a day so taxpayers do not need to check the status more than once a day.

The 14 Free File companies are part of a consortium called the Free File Alliance, which has partnered with the IRS for 11 years to make these commercial products available for free to taxpayers who don’t earn high incomes. According to a 2009 IRS survey, 96 percent of users said they found Free File easy to use, while 98 percent said they would recommend the program to others.

The Free File Alliance is also partnering with the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program, a walk-in service for low-to-moderate income taxpayers. Free File software will be available at self-assist kiosks at VITA sites in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Through the partnership with VITA, the Free File Alliance will be able to provide preparation and e-filing services for taxpayers who do not have Internet access at home, as well as those who want to e-file, but need additional, in-person assistance.

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