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The 2015 tax-filing season doesn’t officially start until Jan. 20. That Tuesday after Dr. Martin Luther King Day is when the Internal Revenue Service will start processing tax returns.

But if you want to be at the front of that tax filing line and qualify to use Free File, then you can start doing your taxes now.

Free File opened for business on Jan. 16. Free File companies will securely hold your completed tax return until the official full filing season starts on Jan. 20.

14 software choices

Fourteen tax software manufacturers are participating this year. They are FreeTaxUSA, Jackson Hewitt, 1040.com, OLT.com, TurboTax, Free1040TaxReturn, TaxSlayer, Tax Simple, Liberty Tax Service, FileYourTaxes.com, TaxACT, H&R Block, ezTaxReturn and 1040NOW.

Most follow the key Free File eligibility requirement that last year’s adjusted gross income be $60,000 or less. That income threshold applies to all filing statuses.

Some of the companies, however, have other conditions. Their income levels are lower or they are open only to filers in certain states or they can be used only by taxpayers of certain ages.

Check the offerings carefully before making your choice. The IRS also has on online tool to help you decide. Use it.  You don’t want to be surprised like some users of certain commercial TurboTax packages were earlier this year.

And while Free File opens a few days before the full official start of the 2015 tax-filing season, most of the services also will let you file for an extension if you just can’t complete your tax forms by April 15.

IRS website access only

Don’t go to any of the Free File participating companies’ websites to file your taxes at no cost. You can get to the free tax preparation and e-filing services only by going to IRS.gov and clicking the Free File logo on that official tax agency home page.

And if you get an email offering to take you to a Free File provider, don’t do it!

Those messages are tax scams. They pop up in email boxes every year as crooks try to steal your identity and file fraudulent returns in your name. When that happens, you’ll be in for a major hassle in filing your real return and getting the tax refund to which you’re legally entitled.

Have you ever used Free File? Do you intend to file that way this year? Bankrate would love to hear about your Free File experiences.

More tax info from Bankrate

Want the latest news on taxes, money-saving tax tips, tax scams and myriad other tax matters? Subscribe to Bankrate’s free Weekly Tax Tip newsletter.

You also can follow me on Twitter: @taxtweet.

Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book “The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes” and co-author of the e-book “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook.”

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