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United Way offers free tax service for eligible residents

By Katie Mettler

“It fits right in with one of our main goals, which is to increase the earning capacity of people in our area,” said United Way Community Engagement Director Jennifer Hottell.

The FCTS program, which was originally implemented by the City of Bloomington, provides free tax preparation and electronic filing of federal and Indiana tax returns for low- and moderate-income residents and students.

In addition to providing general assistance to residents, all the program volunteers are IRS-trained to assist those who are eligible to receive tax refunds from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

According to the IRS website, the EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low- and moderate-income working individuals and families. Congress originally approved the tax credit legislation in 1975 to offset the burden of Social Security taxes and provide a work incentive.

Qualifiers must meet a list of requirements and file a tax return even if their earned income does not require them to file a return.

“This is not a new program. It’s actually been around since the ’70s,” said United Way Community Initiates Director Ashley Hall. “About 20 percent of people who are eligible don’t take advantage of the credit. All our volunteers are IRS-certified, so you are going to a tax site where you’re really talking to experts.”

Last year, 106 people volunteered with the program and helped file more than 950 tax returns free of charge.

“People should be getting all the money they are entitled to without the promise of refund anticipation loans,” Hall said.

Those involved with implementing the program are volunteers who attend a two-weekend training course in tax law and software, she said.

Eight tax assistance program sites are in Monroe and Owen counties for 2012. This year, a mobile site will travel to Broadview Learning Center, Stone Belt, St. Paul Catholic Center and LifeDesigns, Inc.

Daniel Huntley, the FCTS site coordinator at the IU Maurer School of Law and a law student in the school, said this will be the third year he has volunteered with the program. He said his knowledge of business law has enabled him to put theory into practice and help the community at the same time.

“In class, often, you are taught the theory of how taxes work and the theory of customer service and working with people, but it’s a whole different story when you sit down with Free Community Tax Service clients,” Huntley said. “A lot of these folks need the money they will get back in their tax returns, and it’s a lot of fun to help them out.”

Huntley said the sites are prepared to help undergraduate and graduate students who are filing independently for the first time or who have started a family and need guidance.

Super Saturday events will be geared specifically toward students from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 3 and 24 at the Kelley School of Business.

In addition, services are available in Spanish through El Centro Comunal Latino.

“There are a bunch of different sites all over, and a lot of them are run by students here,” Huntley said. “We are always looking for more volunteers.”

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