Free tax assistance deadline nears

April 11, 2011

By DAVID REYNOLDS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Five days remain to take advantage of a United Way program that provides free tax preparations for eligible area residents.

The local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will continue helping clients until noon Friday.

To be eligible for the service, filers must be an individual or family with a maximum income of less than $49,000 in 2010.

Although the program is aimed at helping residents of Henry County and Martinsville, people do not necessarily need to be from the area to receive help.

“The people we see are in need of saving all the money they can,” said Pam Allen, coordinator of the United Way’s HOPE (Helping Others Progress Economically) initiative. “We’re here to help people who need help saving money.”

According to a spreadsheet provided by Allen, the program, which is wrapping up its fifth year, has filed 1,263 1040 returns so far this year, and those returns have produced more than $1.58 million in federal refunds.

Allen said she expects 200 more returns to be filed with VITA’s help this week, bringing the total number of those served this year to just under 1,500.

VITA filed 1,600 returns last year and 1,233 in 2009.

When coming to an appointment or a walk-in visit, each person who will sign the tax return must bring a Social Security card and photo identification. Filers also should bring W-2s, 1099s, Social Security 1099 statements, last year’s tax return and any other tax papers.

The two tax preparation sites affiliated with VITA and the times they will be open this week are:

• Liberty Fair Mall, 240 Commonwealth Blvd., Martinsville. No appointments taken; walk-ins only. Open noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to noon Friday.

• Grace Network, 433 E. Commonwealth Blvd., Martinsville. Appointments only, 1 to 4 p.m. Monday. Call 403-5976.

The returns are prepared by volunteers who have completed at least 30 hours of training by the Internal Revenue Service. These tax preparers must pass a basic level IRS test, and at least one reviewer (people who oversee the preparers’ work during tax season) is present at each site.

Allen estimated the VITA service saves residents an average of $200 on tax preparation and filing fees, and all filing is done electronically to speed the taxpayer’s refund.

This year, taxpayers also have the option of skipping the line at one of the tax preparation centers and using Turbo Tax software to file without help from a VITA volunteer.

Allen said 50 people have chosen that option in the pilot run of the program, and those using Turbo Tax are able to print their returns at the end of the session.

Out of the 1,263 returns so far, 369 (29 percent) qualified for the earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is an incentive for people to work at a low wage rather than accept unemployment, Allen said.

Qualifiers include unmarried filers who worked in 2010 who have no children and an income less than $13,460; have one child and an income less than $35,535; have two children and an income less than $40,363; or have three or more children and an income less than $43,352.

Allen said for married people filing jointly, those numbers rise by $5,000 at each level.

If they qualify for the incentive, people can receive as much as a $5,600 credit. The average credit for the 369 people who have qualified so far this year was $1,173.66, which comes to a total of $433,082 for all the taxpayers.


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