The key qualification for Free File services is income. This year, taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less, regardless of filing status, can use the online program. This is the same income threshold as last year.
Participating tax software companies can establish other eligibility requirements. Some may limit usage of their programs based on geographic location, military service or other criteria.
To determine which software best fits your filing needs, the Free File website includes an online search tool to help you select one of the participating Free File companies.
Free File contributions to e-filing
When all 2012 tax data are tallied, online tax filing by individuals is expected to reach at least 81 percent, according to the latest report to Congress from the IRS Oversight Board.
The Oversight Board, created as part of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, noted that it is "generally satisfied with the overall steady progress being made in the percent of major tax returns filed electronically, which grew more than four percentage points between 2011 and 2012."
Three million of those returns e-filed last year came through Free File, says Tim Hugo, executive director of the Clifton, Va.-based Free File Alliance.
Some have criticized the program for not bringing in more e-filers. Last year's Free File contribution was just a fraction of the more than 119 million returns e-filed by individual taxpayers.
But Hugo says the program's success shouldn't be measured solely by filing numbers.
"We get people in the door for e-filing, people who've never e-filed before," says Hugo. "They may go to a commercial product later on, but they will continue to e-file. We are very pleased with that."
Working with VITA
Free File also is continuing its work with the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, popularly known as VITA.
VITA tax-filing clinics are set up each year in public places -- from libraries to community centers to shopping malls. Its volunteers provide free filing assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers who might not be able to afford tax software or professional filing help. This filing season, the services of IRS-certified VITA volunteers are available to people who make $51,000 or less.
Hugo says Free File is again placing kiosks, similar to self-checkout stations in retail stores, at VITA sites nationwide.
"You can do your return there or partially do your return and, if you need help, ask a VITA volunteer," says Hugo. "This helps some of those who are most in need of tax help."
The IRS has an online search tool to help taxpayers locate a nearby VITA site. Taxpayers also can call (800) 906-9887 for VITA locations.
Free fillable forms remain
The IRS says that Free File is available to 70 percent of taxpayers. But if you are among the 30 percent making too much money to use the service, you still can file for free using the tax agency's fillable federal return form option.
Here, online versions of the most commonly used IRS tax forms are available through the Free File page. You fill them out on your computer and then e-file the documents at no charge.
Just don't mistake the forms for tax software.