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Christmas is next week! So of course you're thinking about filing your 2019 tax return.

Maybe not this coming week. But you will soon.

And when you do think about it, if you're like most U.S. taxpayers, you'll use tax software.

E-filing encouraged: The Internal Revenue Service encourages us — and in the case of most paid tax preparers, requires — to use the tax preparation programs and accompanying electronic filing option.

We follow those prompts and pushes. This year, more than 138 million returns were e-filed. That was almost 89 percent of all the 1040s and other annual returns sent to the IRS through late November.

Once again, that amount was larger than the prior year.

And once again, an increase in the number of taxpayer self-prepared and electronically transmitted returns — almost 58 million, up 4.4 percent over 2018 filings — accounted in large part for the overall e-filing increase.

Free File not really part of the equation: The IRS has tried to get more of us to go electronic by offering the option at no cost via Free File.

The partnership between tax software manufacturers represented by the Free File Alliance and the IRS will enter its 17th year with the 2020 filing season.

But despite its longevity, it just hasn't worked as well as many had planned or hoped. Even though we tend to jump at anything that's free, the Free File option isn't that popular.

Led away by paid programs: Free File also took a hit this year when Pro Publica revealed that some of the tax prep major players that are part of the IRS-touted program used workarounds on their websites to funnel taxpayers to their paid filing options.

The fallout from the nonprofit investigative newsroom's report continues.

The IRS pledged to investigate the charges and work on ways to ensure Free File is not short-changed.

Some question how much effective the internal effort will be, especially after an IRS-commissioned outside analysis of Free File gave the current operating system generally good marks.

State investigations, too: But some states also are on it.

A new ProPublica report says that multiple state attorneys general have opened investigations into Intuit, the maker of tax software giant TurboTax, amid the allegations that the company charged millions of Americans for tax filing services they were eligible to receive for free.

In addition, multiple state attorneys general have opened investigations into TurboTax practices.

That report earns this week's Saturday Shout Out.

Check it out. I totally understand it you want to wait until after the holidays. But at least do so before you get ready to file your 2019 taxes next year.

You definitely want to make sure you do so in the easiest, most accurate and least costly way possible.

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