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Civic Impact

Free tax prep for those who most need it

“I know for a fact that there are people who qualify and don’t use the sites” that offer free tax preparation, says Angela Reynolds, director of programs for financially struggling adults and families? at United Way of Allegheny County.
That's why this year the Money in Your Pocket coalition of 11 different agencies is hoping even more people take advantage of their 14 tax prep sites in Allegheny County, which open on Jan. 20 through tax day.
They don't charge a fee, even if they do get money for you. And they're being staffed by IRS trained and certified tax preparers who will be looking for every possible way to increase people's refunds, says Reynolds.
Families with up to $40,000 income per year and individuals who make up to $20,000 per year are eligible. To make an appointment, call 211 to get an assessment of whether you qualify and which center can best help, since only certain centers can handle particularly specialized tax returns.
Last year, the service handled more than 5,800 returns and pointed program participants toward such important deductions as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which allows qualified recipients to pay less federal tax or no tax, or even to get $475-5,891 back.
This year the 200 volunteers will handle up to 6,500 returns, Reynolds hopes. She also anticipates that the free service may help people begin to realize that itemizing deductions is easier than they've assumed, and also realize that using paid tax preparers may involve unexpected fees. The coalition is working with the IRS to identify some of the zipcodes where people may qualify but don't use the service as often as in other neighborhoods, she says. “We are trying to increase the number of houses that are aware that these services exist.”
The volunteers, she adds, “They’re being trained to ask the right questions of households so they come across all the tax credits for which they ought to be eligible.”
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Angela Reynolds, United Way
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