IRS unveils Free File site

Free File

The Internal Revenue Service unveiled an area on its Web site Jan. 16 to guide eligible taxpayers to free services for filing taxes online.

The Free File area provides guidance on how to choose a provider and links to the 17 software and tax preparation companies in the Free File Alliance that worked with the IRS to develop this service. Citizens can either browse the listing of company offerings on their own or use a specially developed wizard to find the offerings most likely to fit their circumstances.

"We're opening up a whole new world of convenience to millions of taxpayers who have told us 'we would like to e-file, but we can't afford to,'" Robert Wenzel, acting IRS commissioner, said at the unveiling.

At least 60 percent of taxpayers, or about 78 million people, are expected to be eligible for one or more of the free e-filing services, according to the IRS.

Last year, about 35 percent of returns were filed electronically, Wenzel said. IRS officials hope the Free File service will help the agency reach its goal of 80 percent e-filing by 2007.

Free File offers frequently asked questions, guidance along every step of the way, and plenty of links to provide additional information on almost every aspect of the service. But just like on paper-based taxes, people cannot fudge figures.

"This wizard will help select an offering, but it is only as good as the information the taxpayer enters," said Terry Lutes, director of the IRS' Electronic Tax Administration.

Simplicity and ease of use is the key to the Free File service, and the fact that the service is only one click off both the IRS and FirstGov home pages—following the Bush administration's "three clicks to service" mandate for all e-government services—is an important part of what makes this a good initiative, said Mark Forman, associate director of e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget.

"I'm really excited about Free File...it's really the embodiment of the 24 e-government initiatives," he said.

In addition, it essentially sets up perhaps the first e-filing marketplace, where citizens can shop among the services and pick the one that best fits their needs, he said.

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