Friday, December 21st, 2012...12:27 pm

Volunteers needed to help others at tax time

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There are people in this world who love to work with numbers, including all those calculations associated with tax returns.
My sister is one of those people. I am not.
But Charlie Lanter, manager for program development at the Community Action Council for Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas counties, needs help from both of us.
That’s why he is sending out an all-points-bulletin for volunteers, including folks like me, who are willing to be trained as tax preparers for the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
VITA, which is available through several organizations in Kentucky, offers free tax help for low and middle income working families throughout the state. The IRS wants to offer free professional help, and to make more people aware of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which I remember was a boon to my budget as a single parent.
Last year Community Action volunteers prepared 1,178 returns in Central Kentucky, resulting in more than $1.9 million to local economies.
That’s why Lanter is reaching out for more volunteers, but it doesn’t explain how he or VITA can make tax preparation less dread-filled.
“You don’t have to be an accountant,” Lanter said. “We use a Web-based software called TaxWise, which is available for VITA.”
Volunteers are trained, in one of several four-hour sessions, to enter the data which is always reviewed by a manager. Lanter said the error rate is very low and the results similar to any professional. No fee is required for electronic filing or anything else.
“We don’t take any of their refund money,” he said.
The free training and materials are available through the end of January. All we have to do is call to schedule a training session.
That doesn’t sound bad, does it?
I admit I have grown less intimidate by taxes since discovering tax preparation software. But we’re still just acquaintances, not real friends.
Maybe that’s because I’m just working on my family’s taxes. Maybe my squeamishness would dissipate if I were to look into the eyes of a senior client grateful for my help, or into the eyes of the head of a family whom I’ve told qualifies for a much larger refund than he had imagined because of the EIC or the childcare tax credit.
“We need about 40 people,” Lanter said. “We do taxes at all our neighborhood centers and we need a couple of volunteers per site.”
Those sites are in Bourbon, Harrison, Nicholas and Fayette counties. And volunteers will be needed from Jan. 22 through April 15.
As the clients have their taxes prepared, they will also learn about programs conducted by Community Action to help them become more stable financially.
Clients are walked through six units of a consumer education curriculum that makes them more aware of budgets, the value of savings and how to avoid predatory-lending pitfalls, Lanter said.
After that step, clients can sign up for the United Way of the Bluegrass Back on Track Individual Development Accounts program, which will help them build assets through savings that are matched 2-to-1. Once the participant saves $2,000, it is matched with an additional $4,000 that can be used for first-time home buyers, for education, or to start a small business.
Plus, they are taught about balancing a checkbook, good interest rates, credit scores and the impact paying bills on-time has on their credit.
“Hopefully that will put them in a strong place,” Lanter said.
Those programs are set up to help the clients and are available whether their taxes are prepared by Community Action or not.
Tax time is around the corner and Lanter would like to get a lot of us certified to help others. Sometimes we should push aside our own feelings to help others. Let’s work on that.

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