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IRS expands free electronic filing to all

Here's a tax break for all taxpayers: File your federal tax return for free with the IRS.

The tax agency this year expanded its electronic filing program in ways that make it free for anyone who wants to use it.

First, the income limit to qualify for the IRS Free File program has been raised. Taxpayers with adjusted gross income of up to $56,000 - more than 98 million of them - can file electronically through Free File now. The program is a partnership with private tax preparers and the IRS. You access it through the IRS site at www.irs.gov and choose one of the preparers. (Some preparers have more restrictive eligibility requirements than others.)

Also, the IRS for the first time is offering Free File Fillable Forms. There is no income limit to use this. But Fillable Forms is electronic filing for do-it-yourselfers. With Free File, for instance, tax preparation software prompts you on deductions and forms you need to submit. You don't need to know the tax code. But Fillable Forms is more like a paper tax return, where you must figure out your deductions and taxes on your own. Fillable Forms, however, will do basic math calculations for you, the IRS says.

Of course, that's half the battle. You need to file state taxes, too. Marylanders can electronically file state tax returns for free using iFile at www.marylandtaxes.com.

You also may be eligible for other free help in preparing state and federal returns. Call First Call for Help at 800-492-0618 for statewide locations and eligibility requirements.

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