Free income tax help available

Sonny Long

Jan. 17, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.

Don't let filing federal income tax become overwhelming because help is available.

The Internal Revenue Service, in cooperation with local agencies and businesses, offers free income tax assistance for qualified people who need help filing their taxes.

Tax preparation volunteers, trained by the IRS, will be available beginning Jan. 30 Thursdays and Saturdays through April 12 at the Victoria College Continuing Education Center.

Last year, more than 240 people took advantage of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in Victoria, said Vicki Smith, executive director of the Community Action Committee of Victoria.

"The program was started by the IRS to extend services to low-income taxpayers who were paying to have their taxes done," said Debbie Andrews, senior tax consultant with the IRS in Austin.

"When the earned income tax credit came out, it was difficult to calculate by hand or on your own."

Andrews said the program began only in cities where the IRS had offices.

"The program was evaluated in 2001, and the IRS realized it could serve more if VITA was moved into the communities and partnered with community organizations that already served these clients," said Andrews.

Andrews emphasized that VITA volunteers only prepare simple tax forms. Those needing additional assistance are referred to the AARP free tax assistance offered at the senior citizens center.

"Our volunteer preparers go through basic tax law training," said Andrews. "Resources are always on hand if a preparer has questions.

"We can always use more volunteers."

Volunteers are also needed as greeters, who make initial contact with clients when they arrive at the VITA site and screen them for eligibility.

Andrews and Smith both commended the VITA partners - Victoria County United Way, Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent, city of Victoria, Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission, AARP and Wells Fargo.

At the VITA site, Wells Fargo offers financial education services to help filers manage refunds.

In addition, Keith Rucker and Auturo Lara, health care navigators with Gulf Bend Center, will provide information and direction to taxpayers about the Affordable Health Care Act.

Andrews also praised Smith's leadership.

"The program is only going to grow with a strong leader and strong organizations," she said. "We've got a good group of people in Victoria, and all of them do their part."



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