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IRS-certified volunteers file 2,847 federal tax returns


By Makenzie Holland




 
The Free Community Tax Service, a program that brought together nearly 200 IRS-certified volunteers in Monroe and Owen counties to help file federal tax returns for low- and moderate-income residents, saved individuals and families up to $850,000 in tax preparation fees, according to a press release. The program has taken place in the community for many years.

“This is something that happened at a few different sites and in 2010, we came on to convene the program,” said Ashley Hall, United Way of Monroe County Community initiatives director.

Hall said that although United Way convenes the program and is the lead partner, the program is community driven.

Community partners include the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, the AARP Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs and many others.

Volunteers that help with filing returns go through an intensive training program set up through Ivy Tech, which is the first of two levels of training they have to go through in order to help fill them out.

At the second level, volunteers are trained by IRS-certified site coordinators.

“As part of the training, at the end, they have to pass a certification to different levels and different levels indicate what kind of a return they’re able to do,” Hall said. “We require all of our volunteers to be trained to at least the intermediate level and many are trained to the advanced level or have additional certificates.”

The program focuses on low and moderate-income residents of Monroe and Owen counties, defined as making $50,000 or less per year.

“We use the number that’s federally decided from our government to dictate what that low and moderate income means,” Hall said. “So in our case we say around $50,000 or below.  If folks fall under that we are happy to help them.”

Hall said they were not able to file returns for complicated businesses or specific features.

“During the intake process, the preparers will look to make sure that, not only are the income eligibility things there, but that it’s a type of return that they’re trying to do as well,” Hall said.

This year, there was an online option that allowed returns to be filed for income up to $57,000.

One of the most important aspects of the program, Hall said, is helping individuals and families claim valuable credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. According to the release, the EITC resulted in a refund of up to $5,891 for those who qualified.

“It’s one of the reasons that we really are so involved and care so much about this program,” Hall said. “The EITC is a tremendous income boost for working families that aren’t making much money. It can really help pull folks out of poverty. Last year this credit itself brought over 3,000 people out of poverty, so that’s why we care about this program."

Grant funding from the IRS, Walmart Foundation and AARP’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly made the Free Community Tax Service possible, according to the release.
United Way received grants totaling $41,500 from the IRS and Walmart to implement the service.

This year, community volunteers at the eight VITA sites completed 1,812 tax returns, which was a 29 percent increase from last year, according to the release.
Ivy Tech, one of the largest sites, filed 744 returns. The IU Maurer School of Law filed 430.

Hall said Maurer did a tremendous job and increased its number of returns from last year, as did all the sites.

AARP Tax Counseling for the Elderly administered sites at Twin Lakes Recreation Center and the Monroe County Public Library and had similar success, filing 423 returns and 612 returns respectively.

“It was a huge success,” Hall said. “We were so excited about our numbers. We filed 2,847 federal returns, plus another couple thousand state returns. So this was definitely a successful year.

“We increased our goal that we had set for ourselves and we’re just excited because helping those families get ahead makes our whole community more
financially stable.”

For more information on the Free Community Tax Service, visit www.monroeunitedway.org/freetaxes.

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