United Way offers free tax service

For many people, filing their taxes can be both a blessing and a curse.

While taxpayers look forward to getting back refunds, they also dread having to shell out their own money to have their taxes done. Or they worry about making a mistake while muddling through all of the forms.

Jackson County United Way wants to help make the process a little easier on the mind and wallet.

Any local resident who makes $53,000 or less a year in annual income likely is eligible to have their taxes prepared and filed for free by trained volunteers certified by the Internal Revenue Service.

Now in its fifth year, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service is available to help people keep more of their hard-earned money, said United Way program manager Bonita Dobbs.

In 2014, a team of 13 volunteers prepared 200 returns for residents at three different locations in the county.

Not everyone gets a refund, but the service has been successful in putting more than $1 million back in local taxpayers’ pockets, Dobbs said. That’s the running total of how much people have received in federal and state income tax refunds using VITA.

“It’s part of our mission at United Way to work for financial stability in the community,” Dobbs said of why the agency continues to offer the service.

Appointments can be scheduled by dialing United Way’s 2-1-1 community resource hotline from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those appointments last roughly an hour and take place in the computer classroom on the second floor of the Seymour Library.

If using a cellphone, Dobbs recommended people call 812-376-6666.

There haven’t been a lot of people sign up so far this year, she said, but she expects that to change in the coming weeks.

“A lot of people are still waiting to get their W-2s and all the other tax documents they need to file before calling,” she said. “We will be making appointments through the first couple weeks of April.”

The deadline for residents to file their income taxes without penalty is April 15.

Dobbs said one issue they are having is people not showing up for their appointments.

To prepare for an appointment, taxpayers must have their photo identification and Social Security card for themselves, spouses if filing jointly and for dependents. They also must bring all W-2s, 1099s and other pertinent tax forms.

Without all of the needed information, people may be turned away and forced to reschedule, Dobbs said.

VITA clients should keep in mind that the free service is for basic tax filing purposes only.

“There are some issues that are out of the scope of what our volunteers can do,” Dobbs said.

More complicated tax situations may require outside professional assistance, she added.

Crystal Brown is one of 14 people volunteering this year through VITA. She has been with the program since its first year.

“I see a lot of benefit to the community because a lot of people don’t understand taxes,” she said of the service.

In the past, she has paid as much as $350 to have her taxes prepared by a professional service, she said.

“The cost of doing taxes can be high,” she said.

By using VITA, Brown said people get to keep that money instead to help pay bills or spend on everyday needs.

Brown said she enjoys helping people get a bigger refund than they anticipated.

“I know what to look for, and there are a lot of different things we can check to get people even more money back,” she said.

One opportunity VITA continues to highlight and make people aware of is the Earned Income Tax Credit. That credit is a benefit for working people who have low to moderate income.

To qualify for the credit, you must have earned income from working for someone else or running or operating a farm or business. A person wanting to claim the earned income tax credit cannot be married and filing separately.

Brown said most people are eligible for the credit and may not know it.

“If you aren’t sure, come in and let us figure it out for you,” she said.

Dobbs agreed that claiming the earned income tax credit can make a big difference.

She said last year, a young mother with two children was able to get back half of her income by claiming the credit.

Another service VITA is offering is self-filing through myfreetaxes.com. Residents who make up to $60,000 can use the website on their own to file their taxes.

United Way also is planning two dates, Feb. 11 and Feb. 25, where people can come to the library to use the My Free Taxes program with free tax coaches available to guide them through the process and help answer questions.

“It’s so easy to use, I think people will be surprised to find out they can do their taxes on their own,” Dobbs said.

Other upcoming special events being planned by the VITA program include Senior Blitz Days for senior citizens to get their taxes done Feb. 8, Feb. 21 and March 2 and a Super Saturday event March 14 where people can come without an appointment.

At a glance

Jackson County United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service is available to taxpayers earning $53,000 or less per year.

To schedule an appointment, people should call the United Way 2-1-1 hotline or 812-376-6666.

Another service VITA is offering is self-filing through myfreetaxes.com.

Residents who make up to $60,000 can use the website on their own to file their taxes.

United Way also is planning two dates, Feb. 11 and Feb. 25, where people can come to the library to use the My Free Taxes program with free tax coaches available to guide them through the process and help answer questions.

Other upcoming special events being planned by the VITA program include Senior Blitz Days for senior citizens to get their taxes done Feb. 8, Feb. 21 and March 2 and a Super Saturday event March 14 where people can come without an appointment.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.