The Internal Revenue Service opened its Free File program Friday for the ninth year, offering free tax preparation and electronic filing to taxpayers.

Free File provides a free way to prepare and e-file federal taxes either through brand-name software or online fillable forms. Individuals or families with 2010 adjusted gross incomes of $58,000 or less can use Free File software. Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms, has no income restrictions.

“Free File saves you money and time preparing and e-filing your federal tax returns,” said IRS Electronic Tax Administration and Refundable Credits acting director Cecille M. Jones in a statement. “Free File really does make taxes less taxing.”

Free File software is a product of a public-private partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, LLC. The alliance is a consortium of approximately 20 tax software providers who make versions of their products available exclusive at www.irs.gov/freefile. All Free File members must meet certain security requirements and use the latest in encryption technology to protect taxpayers’ information.

Seventy percent of taxpayers are eligible for Free File software, including first-time filers, families looking to save money and older Americans adept at using the Internet.

People with an adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less are eligible for at least one software product if not more. Each of the Free File software providers sets their own eligibility requirements, usually based on qualifiers such as income, state residency, age or military status.

The IRS offers an online tool that can identify matching products after a taxpayer provides a little personal information. Taxpayers can also review all providers and their offers on the Free File site. Some software providers also offer state income tax preparation for free or for a fee.
For taxpayers whose incomes are more than $58,000, Free File Fillable Forms are available online. This program is aimed at taxpayers who are experienced in preparing their own federal tax returns. For people who prefer doing their taxes the old fashioned way – by paper – this is an electronic alternative.

Free File Fillable Forms performs some math calculations and provides links to some IRS publications. It does not use the familiar question-and-answer format used by software. Taxpayers can e-file the forms for free.  It also does not support state income tax returns.
Taxpayers must access the tax products through IRS.gov to avoid any charges for preparing or e-file a federal tax return. Free File partners also are prohibited from repeatedly trying to sell taxpayers other products.

Once taxpayers have selected a Free File software product, they will be directed away from IRS.gov to the partner’s site to prepare and e-file their returns. The IRS does not retain any personal information from the taxpayers.

This year, taxpayers also will see a redesigned Free File page to make it easier for them to navigate the Free File steps.

A microsite with additional Free File information and video also has been updated. The microsite, www.freefile.irs.gov also includes a ‘spread the word” page that encourages other organizations or businesses to help spread the word about Free File. For example, other organizations or businesses can upload a tax-day countdown widget to their Web sites or make social media postings to help inform their employees, clients or customers about Free File’s availability.

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