Need help filing your tax return?

Trained volunteers statewide offer free services to help to low and moderate income households prepare federal and state income tax returns
By Vicki Hill
Need help filing your tax return?

Volunteer Elly Kealey in Orange County assists a client with her tax filing.

Tax season may have a silver lining this year for those who use the VITA program to prepare their taxes. The dismal economic climate paired with the rising cost of living doesn't need to keep taxpayers from having a reliable tax preparer at their fingertips. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program makes it easy for clients with low to moderate income to access its free service provided by IRS-trained and certified volunteers.

VITA sites tend to be located in public places like churches, senior centers, credit unions, libraries, universities and community centers. There are 650 free income tax assistance sites in North Carolina, according to Grace Francis and Dianne Maldonado, both senior tax consultants with the IRS Outreach Department. Some of these sites are VITA-Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and some are TCE-Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE has now extended its base to serve all age groups as does VITA).

VITA volunteers can prepare computerized federal and North Carolina tax returns for clients regardless of age and residence as long as they meet eligibility guidelines. Most returns are filed electronically; however, clients can choose to mail their paper return. Each return is reviewed for accuracy and to determine that all applicable credits and deductions have been applied. Tax preparation and e-filing are free of charge.

"Since the early 1980s, Orange County government through the Orange County RSVP Volunteer Program has partnered with other agencies, including the IRS, to ensure that taxpayers have access to this free tax preparation service," said Kathy Porter, director of the RSVP Volunteer Program. Last year Orange County RSVP's 99 VITA volunteers were stationed at a number of locations in Orange and Chatham counties to serve more than 1,800 clients.

RSVP Volunteer Programs are one of many agencies nationwide that recruit new volunteers to join veteran volunteer tax preparers. "Volunteers return year after year to help these clients," Porter said. VITA volunteers run the gamut from U.S. ambassadors to accountants, lawyers to college students. Some are retired but many are still employed and find time to volunteer. They must test to IRS standards, including passing an ethics and confidentiality test.

"It is such a rewarding feeling to be able to help someone to prepare their tax returns," said 20-year VITA veteran Jill Hallenbeck. For the past four years, she has served as the RSVP-VITA coordinator for Orange and Chatham counties. RSVP Volunteer Programs are federally sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service-Senior Corps with additional support from local sponsors.

What to bring

1. Photo identification

2. Social security cards and birth dates for everyone listed on the return

3. Copies of 2011 federal and state tax returns

4. Wage and earning statements Form W-2

5. Information about income and expenses, such as social security, pension, unemployment, alimony, etc.

6. Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)

7. Amounts paid for day care or afterschool care and provider's identifying tax number

8. Education Credits: 1098T statement along with expense receipts for books, computer and internet charges

9. Receipts for mortgage interest, personal property tax, real estate tax, vehicle tax

10. Home sold 2012: All records of home sales, including closing statements for original purchase and sale of your home

11. Stock sales 2012: All records of stock sales and the date and price of original purchase

12. Bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit of your refund

13. Both spouses must be present to sign joint returns.

To learn more about eligibility and find assistance sites, call (800) 906-9887 or search "free tax preparation" at www.irs.gov.

About the Author

Vicki Hill is with the Orange County RSVP 55+ Volunteer Program, Chapel Hill.

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