The Internal Revenue Service said Tuesday that its Modernized e-File, or MeF, system successfully opened this morning at 9:00 am Eastern Time and is now operational for individual tax returns and extensions.

The IRS opened its e-file system for business tax returns last week (see IRS e-File System Open to Business Tax Filers).

IRS e-file has surpassed the milestone of 1 billion returns processed. More than 112 million income tax returns were e-filed last year, or 77 percent of all individual returns filed.

"E-file is the best option for taxpayers. E-file enables taxpayers to file more accurate returns and receive their refunds quickly and safely," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman in a statement.

The Free File Alliance, a coalition of tax software companies who partner with the IRS, also said Tuesday that they have launched for the tenth year the IRS Free File program. Since its inception in 2003, IRS Free File has offered low-to-moderate income taxpayers free access to leading online commercial tax preparation software. This year, every taxpayer with a 2011 Adjusted Gross Income of $57,000 or less may visit to prepare, complete and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost.

To begin, taxpayers should visit the IRS Web site Users will find a list of Free File Alliance member companies and may either choose the one that fits their needs or utilize the “help me find a company” tool. After selecting a tax software company, users will be transferred to the company's website to prepare, complete and electronically file their federal income tax returns. The service is also available in Spanish.

The Free File Alliance is also partnering this year with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, a service for low-to-moderate income taxpayers. Free File Alliance member software will be available on self-assist kiosks at VITA sites in 29 states across the country. This partnership will extend VITA’s ability to provide free tax preparation services to more taxpayers who need additional assistance.

Starting this filing season, any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. The IRS is encouraging taxpayers to use tax return preparers who offer IRS e-file.

The IRS also said that taxpayers should also only use paid preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their Preparer Tax Identification Numbers. Preparers are required to sign the returns they prepare and include their PTINs. Although paid preparers sign returns, taxpayers are legally responsible for the accuracy of every item on their return. Preparers are also required to give taxpayers a copy of their returns.

When using e-file, taxpayers must also use an e-signature and an electronic filing PIN. If taxpayers prepare their own return using software they must use the self-select PIN method on the return. When using a paid preparer, they can still use the self-select PIN method or the practitioner PIN method. The electronic filing PIN is a temporary PIN used by the IRS to verify a taxpayer's identity when e-filing.

In general, for people concerned about security, electronic filing has proven itself year in and year out as a safe and secure method of filing a tax return, the IRS noted. E-file has a proven track record. Software vendors and paid tax return preparers use the latest encryption technology. Plus, within 48 hours, an electronic acknowledgement is issued that the return has been received by the IRS and either accepted or rejected.

With most people receiving a refund, the fastest way to get a refund is by e-filing and using direct deposit. Taxpayers can get their money automatically in as few as 10 days. Last year, more than 79 million refunds were electronically deposited into taxpayers’ accounts, saving them a trip to the bank.

For people who owe taxes, e-file offers payment alternatives such as filing now and scheduling payment on the April tax deadline. Taxpayers who still want to pay by check can do so by e-filing and then mailing a payment voucher.
Taxpayers can e-file their tax returns one of three ways: through a tax return preparer, through self-preparation software or through IRS Free File. The IRS does not charge for e-file. Many tax return preparers and software products also offer free e-filing with their services. Free File offers free tax preparation and free electronic filing.

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