It’s tax season, and for many people, that means forking out hundreds of dollars to get their taxes done by a licensed professional.
But Jackson County United Way wants to help residents keep their money by offering a free income tax prep service.
Volunteers, who are trained and certified by the IRS, will help eligible residents file their basic federal and state taxes for free through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
The service is available at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour to individuals and married couples earning $54,000 or less.
Appointments are being scheduled now through April 12 and may be made by calling United Way’s 2-1-1 resource hotline or 812-376-6666.
To prepare for an appointment, taxpayers must have their photo identification and Social Security card for themselves, spouses if filing jointly and 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.
VITA clients should keep in mind that the free service is for basic tax filing purposes only.
Walk-ins are welcome, but there is no guarantee a volunteer will be available.
“Our schedule fills up quickly as people begin to receive their W-2s,” said Bonita Dobbs, Jackson County United Way program manager.
A senior blitz will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 27, March 6 and April 3, meaning those times are reserved for people age 65 and older.
VITA has helped more than 1,600 county residents receive $1.6 million in federal returns since the program began here in 2010.
Cora Lucas, director of the Brownstown Senior Center, is one of those residents.
“The last time I had my taxes prepared by a private company, it cost me over $400,” she said. “I’ve used VITA for the last three years, so that’s about a $1,200 savings. Quite a bit of money.”
Not only has Lucas used the program, but she recommends it to family and friends.
“Three generations of my family have used the VITA service — my parents and my adult sons — so we’re living proof that the program works,” she said. “It allows me to utilize all of my tax return for what I really need it for, which is home repairs, medical costs, things that I might not be able to afford on a regular basis through my paycheck.”
VITA volunteers this year are Brandy Tackett, Cindy Ruddick, Crystal Brown, Garry Wells, Garry Wells II, Glenda Johnson, Jackie Sciarra, Jennifer Harris, Jennifer Rorick, Julie Bradley, Kay Oathout, Linda Hofer, Lisa Amos, Marianne Willacker, Mary Koop, Roger Smith, Rowena Martin, Stacey Brummett and Theresa Colina.
This is Harris’ sixth year to volunteer.
Harris was recruited into VITA by Brown, her friend and Cummins Inc. coworker.
“I’d just learned how to file my own taxes from a cousin who had a background in accounting,” Harris said.
Together, Harris and Brown were recognized as the Financial Stability Volunteers of the Year at the Jackson County United Way’s annual dinner Jan. 29.
Due to the time commitment it requires, not everyone is able to be a VITA tax preparer, and it might not be a good fit.
But for Harris, it’s perfect.
“Personally, I like numbers, and I love a good story,” she said. “Taxes tell a story about the client’s year. It’s my job to make sure the whole story gets told, all the credits are claimed and all the deductions are applied.”
Another free option for taxpayers to file their taxes is through the MyFreeTaxes online service. It is available to individuals or married couples making $62,000 or less.
The online site walks individuals through the process step-by-step for those wanting to file their taxes on their own. It also provides telephone and online chat support for those with questions.
To celebrate the 55th anniversary of Jackson County United Way, the agency hopes to see VITA volunteers prepare at least 55 new tax returns this year.
Read the story in Tuesday’s Tribune and online at tribtown.com.