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Free tax help available for qualifying Utahns

By Tonya Papanikolas | Posted - Apr. 8, 2010 at 6:38 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Taxpayers have exactly one week to file their tax returns.

Paying for tax help is a lot harder for many people this year because of the down economy. But the IRS offers free help for qualifying Utahns.

Gayle Ewer just filed her tax return and discovered she will get a refund twice as big as last year's.

"It was $1,400, which is pretty awesome," she said.

In previous years, Ewer did her own taxes with Turbo Tax. But she says it took up to four hours and never ended up being free as advertised. So this year, she took her friends' advice.

"I had five W2s and I was scrambling to get it all done. One of my friends said, 'You should call 211, and they'll do it all for you,'" she explained.

Calling the referral number for community services helped her determine she was eligible for a program called VITA -- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Under the program, 700 trained volunteers across the state help qualifying Utahns prepare their taxes for free.

"I didn't have to stress about ‘Am I putting this in right? Do I really get this itemized or deducted? Can I really do this?'" Gayle explained.

A VITA volunteer also helped Mary Barnes file her taxes.

"They asked a lot of questions," she said. "It was done fast, and I got some money back. I'm thrilled about it."

Community Action Partnership (CAP) employees, who oversee the VITA program, say this year more people qualify for the free help because the IRS raised the income level for eligible customers.

Melissa Jensen, a CAP asset development director said, "Last year our income bracket was $42,000, which is a fairly moderate income. So we've been able to help a lot more people."

VITA volunteers also check to see if these Utahns are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal tax credit for low- to moderate-income workers. This year the tax credit can reach up to $5,600. But many people don't know they qualify.

"The Earned Income Tax Credit loses about $50 million to $70 million every year that goes unclaimed in Utah," Jensen said. "We are aware of all the credits. We do our best to get people the most money."

For these filers, peace of mind from knowing that their taxes were done and done correctly means just as much as the free price tag.

VITA volunteers in Utah expect to help 15,000 people file their tax returns this year, and it's not too late to make an appointment. To find out if you're eligible, call 211 or click here.

E-mail: tpapanikolas@ksl.com

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Tonya Papanikolas

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