The IRS Free File program is now active with links to free tax prep software that's available for about 75% of American taxpayers.

In order to use this program, you must have an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000. That still means your effective income can be somewhere in the $65,000 to $70,000 range. (This program used to be open to anyone, but there was some fussing that the rich shouldn't be eligible for free tax prep, hence the cap.)

When you pick a company on the IRS website, you'll see that some specialize in only people of lower incomes. Most, however, will work with you up to the $60,000 cap. Some will also prepare your state tax return, if you live in a state that has a state income.

Earned-income tax credit may benefit you

Meanwhile, many families who would never have considered applying for what's called the earned-income tax credit (EITC) in the past may be eligible this tax season.

The EITC is usually aimed at low-income families, but the unprecedented level of unemployment among those who were doing well going into the recession may make it a viable option for them too. In order to qualify for the EITC, you must earn around $50,000 or less.

Richard Nixon developed the idea of the EITC in 1969, although it was then called "negative income tax." His idea was to give people with children who might not work an incentive to go out and work rather than depend on the government for assistance. Childless workers may also be eligible to qualify.

This is a tax credit you have to ask for or you won't get it. Most programs available through the IRS FreeFile program will ask the right questions to see if you qualify, though not all. And you're likely to miss this credit if you do a 1040 by hand.

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Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. View More Articles

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