The Internal Revenue Service kicked off tax season this week, saying it plans to mail 16.5 million tax packages to taxpayers this month who have filed paper returns in the past, but the packages won't include any tax credit forms because of delays in patching the alternative minimum tax.

Taxpayers will have to download the tax credit forms from the Web site. The IRS is still encouraging most taxpayers to file electronically and noted that the number of paper packages has dropped rapidly in recent years, down by about half from 34 million packages in just four years. Last year, nearly 80 million tax returns were filed electronically, or about 57 percent of all returns.

"We strongly encourage taxpayers to file electronically, particularly those affected by late tax law changes," said Acting IRS Commissioner Linda Stiff in a statement. "Filing electronically makes things easier by reducing errors and speeding up refunds."

As many as 13.5 million taxpayers using five forms related to the AMT legislation will have to wait to file tax returns until the IRS finishes reprogramming its systems for the new law. The IRS has targeted Feb. 11 as the potential starting date for taxpayers to begin submitting the five AMT-related returns affected by the legislation.

The five forms are 8863 (Education Credits), 5695 (Residential Energy Credits), 1040A's Schedule 2 (Child and Dependent Care Expenses for Form 1040A Filers), 8396 (Mortgage Interest Credit) and 8859 (District of Columbia First-Time Homebuyer Credit).

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