Volunteers can maximize refunds for lower-income taxpayers - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Volunteers can maximize refunds for lower-income taxpayers

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Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 4:26 pm

Alan Floth can't wait for tax season. He can't get enough of 1040 forms, W-2s, 1099s and shoeboxes full of receipts. And not just his own.

The Motorola retiree has been doing taxes for countless other people for five years. For free.

Floth is one of 90 participants in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sponsored by Mesa United Way and the Internal Revenue Service. The volunteers have been working toward their IRS certification in preparation for the program's kickoff on Feb. 6, when sites across the city will open to low- and moderate-income residents who need help preparing their tax returns.

Why does he do it? "It keeps my brain sharp and I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people," Floth said. "When someone comes in with hardly any income we often send them away with a sizeable check that makes all the difference in their lives."

For example, he explained, someone with an income of $10,000 to $20,000 could end up with a refund of $4,000 to $6,000. That's because the federal government offers generous tax credits to lower-income wage earners - including the earned income tax credit - that far exceed the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks during the year. Yet many lower-income workers miss out on the tax credits because they're not aware of them and don't itemize their deductions.

VITA volunteers are trained to help taxpayers take advantage of every tax credit they qualify for so they can get the largest refund check possible, said Don Jensen, program manager for Mesa United Way and coordinator of the VITA program. "Most of our volunteers this year also participated last year. They become very reliable and they return because they like doing it. When the single mom breaks down and cries because she's getting such a big refund, you realize just how much you're helping people who really need it."

Jensen said many of the volunteers are retirees looking for something interesting and worthwhile to do, while others are younger people who enjoy helping others. There are also college accounting students looking for practical experience and their IRS certification that helps them land good jobs when they graduate, he said.

Taxpayers qualify for free tax assistance based on income and family circumstances. For example, a family of four with income up to $50,000 is eligible.

Last tax season Mesa United Way's VITA program assisted 1,900 people with their tax returns, yielding $2.7 million in refunds, Jensen said.

To find out if you qualify for free tax assistance, and for site locations and hours, visit www.MesaUnitedWay.org and click the link under What's New.

• Bob Schuster is a public information specialist for the Mesa United Way.


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