Income Under $55,000? County Offers Free Tax Prep Service
Last year an efficient team of Gila County Community Services tax clerks helped prepare 655 tax forms for residents. The resulting $837,439 in federal and state refund dollars is impressive, but more meaningful to each taxpayer was the free service offered by Gila County - savings that can average $300, according to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Coordinator Dorine Prine.
“If somebody gave you $300, what would you do?” asks Prine. “Buy propane? Pay your heating bill? Make a car payment or repair, cover house or utility bills - or simply bank that $300 to be ready for next month’s bills.”
Last year alone, VITA saved Gila County residents $196,000 in tax preparation fees. Many establishments arrange to deduct the fee from the client’s expected refund; tax prep through VITA is completely free.
Who’s eligible? Gila County residents who earn below $55,000. VITA staff prepared and filed 655 returns last year, Prine and her team want to expand and add clients during the first quarter of 2019.
To schedule an appointment with Prine or other VITA assistants, call (928) 425-7631. Community Services Office staff are in Gila County’s Central Heights office complex at 5515 South Apache Avenue in Globe. For more than a decade Gila County’s VITA team has prepared and filed tax papers for residents who qualify.
Gila County Community Action Program Administrator Dorine Prine describes many benefits, chief among these that VITA keeps Gila County tax refund dollars within Gila county – in the wallets of taxpayers. VITA began in Gila County when Community Services Director Malissa Buzan saw a community need for low income residents to have assistance completing and filing tax paperwork.
“We strive to give clients as much individualized attention as they need,” said Prine, “and to coach our clients away from high-interest, rapid-refund loans that seem tempting – but often have hidden fees. We can give folks the full amount of their refund in about ten days – and that’s a lot more money in your pocket.”
Dorine Prine and other IRS-certified volunteers will begin preparing returns next month at Gila County CAP Offices in both Payson and Globe. There’s also a Hayden-Winkelman VITA site at the Hayden Senior Center, likely to be open for appointments during the first week of February.
Prine points out that this year the IRS will not issue refunds for anyone getting Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) or Child Tax Credits (CTC) until Feb. 15 due to the PATH Act, a federal law designed to reduce fraud. However, Prine says that residents expecting to receive EITC or CTC should still file as early as possible. Appointment last about an hour, and bring long-term benefits.
“Taxes are difficult for people, and we try to make the paperwork easy and fun,” says Prine. With 25 years of tax preparation – and a decade running the VITA program – she has keen insight into tax deductions clients would unknowingly miss. “If someone wants a bigger refund, I can offer advice to position them for the next year to get it,” says Prine. As she talks with clients while completing tax forms, Prine thinks ahead to the coming year to suggest new deductions, withholdings or tax strategies. She might explain to a single parent eligible for the EITC and the CTC might reduce their withholding. Although it may reduce a tax refund, it provides more money during the year when needed.
Taxpayers focus on forms during the first quarter of the year, but
Prine is available year-round; in fact she prefers when clients present a new W-4 during a spring, summer or fall meeting where she can explain withholdings and exemptions. “If you don’t understand something I’ll explain it in your language, not IRS language,” says Prine.
“We’re available all year-round to advise and assist taxpayers.” She explains that this savings is particularly important for folks receiving the EITC and CTC. “These tax credits are really so important because they help lift people out of poverty,” says Prine. “It’s essential that we get folks every penny that they have coming to them so they can put it toward emergency savings, childcare, or transportation to get to and from a job.”