IRS e-file, the electronic tax return delivery service used by two-thirds of the nation’s taxpayers, opened for business Friday and marks 20 years of securely transmitting nearly 800 million individual federal tax returns.

In addition, the IRS and its private-sector partners are making the Free File program available now.

About 11.2 million California taxpayers (73 percent) e-filed last year, but millions missed out on the wide range of benefits e-file offers. The IRS urges taxpayers, especially those people already using tax software, to take the next step and e-file their return or ask their preparer to e-file their return.

“Electronic filing is more and more popular every year. It means faster refunds, the option to file now and pay later if you owe additional tax, and peace of mind knowing the IRS received the return because we send an acknowledgment,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “IRS e-file is safe, it’s easy, and everyone should try it.”

Taxpayers who e-file and choose direct deposit file a paperless return and can get their refunds in as soon as 10 days. More than 73 million taxpayers chose direct deposit for their refunds last year.

Free File provides free federal income-tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible taxpayers through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance LLC, a group of about 20 private-sector tax software companies. It comes in two formats: Traditional Free File, which is available to taxpayers who meet specific criteria, and Free File Fillable Forms, available to nearly all taxpayers.

About 70 percent of the nation’s taxpayers, 98 million people who meet the $57,000 income limit, are eligible for the user-friendly Traditional Free File. Traditional Free File provides step-by-step software help that asks simple questions and puts the answers on the correct tax forms.

For taxpayers who are comfortable preparing their own tax returns, there’s Free File Fillable Forms. Nearly everyone is eligible for this service. There are no income limits, and nearly all tax forms are available.

Taxpayers who are eligible for the $8,000 or the $6,500 first-time homebuyer credit will not be able to e-file because they must attach proof of purchase to their tax return. However, these taxpayers still can use Free File to prepare their tax forms and then print and mail the returns to the IRS.

Free File is available 24 hours a day through April 15. For taxpayers who request an extension to file their federal returns, Free File will be available through Oct. 15.

Click here for more Free File information. Click here for videos on these topics.

— Raphael Tulino is an IRS media relations coordinator for Southern California and Nevada.