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Thanks to the federal government shutdown, taxpayers anxious to get a refund must wait until Jan. 31 to file a return this year. That's because the Internal Revenue Service delayed the filing season due to a critical system testing following the shutdown.

But the IRS is telling those who want to have their taxes ready to go that Free File brand-name software is available for most taxpayers.

Fourteen commercial software companies that provide their Free File tax prep products at no cost to the 100 million individuals and families that earn $58,000 or less is now available. Go to to find the product.

The IRS said taxpayers can complete and e-file their tax return now using Free File and the companies will hold it until Jan. 31, when the agency begins accepting returns.

"Many tax preparers and tax software companies are now open for return preparation, including Free File," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "If you plan to get a head start on your taxes, remember to e-file. Electronic filing will allow software companies to hold your return and to automatically send it to the IRS on Jan. 31. There is absolutely no advantage to filing by paper. If you want to save money and time, just use Free File to prepare and e-file your federal return at no charge."

Koskinen said the agency's website,, has a range of information and services to help taxpayers prepare their returns. These include a "Where's My Refund?" tab, YouTube videos with quick tax tips, and many other ways of getting information.

If you click on Free File, select the Free File Software button. Each of the 14 Free File companies sets specific offers, generally based on income, state residency and age — to use their software. Taxpayers can then review each of the 14 company offers or use the "Help Me" button to find an offer that matches their situation.

While Free File is for federal returns, most of the companies also offer state tax return preparation, some for free. The 14 participating companies are part of a consortium called the Free File Alliance, which has partnered with the IRS for 11 years to make these commercial products available for free to taxpayers who don't earn high incomes.

Taxpayers can also often find help at libraries and senior centers.

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