February 21, 2006 > Free tax help
Free tax help
by Shalini Mongia
Earn it! Keep it! Save it! is a national program to increase economic self-sufficiency. The program is sponsored in part by United Way which is also working to coordinate the implementation of the program in all Bay Area counties.
The first significant way that the program assists in self-sufficiency is through the IRS VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program). This program provides free income tax preparation for people who earned $38,000 or less in 2005 and enables them to obtain a tax refund from the IRS called the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In 2003, in Alameda County alone, had $3 million in total tax refunds with an average refund of $1,200 per family with some refunds as high as $4,000.
The program helps people who may not be financially knowledgeable to learn skills and get information to preserve their assets. For example, many people in this strata of earned income, many not have a bank account, so when they need to cash checks, they have to use a check cashing facility which can charge quite a lot; however, after receiving their refund check with help from VITA, they can now open an account with banks that partner with the coalition and thereafter cash checks for free.
It is vital that people know about this free tax preparation assistance as other places may charge $100 or even $150 to do even a simple return. Worse, sometimes, other tax preparation places will offer an "instant tax refund" which is actually a short term loan with a high interest rate, repaid when the IRS refund comes in. The person many not actually get any of this refund if the IRS has liens against it for such things as unpaid traffic fines or child support, so in effect, the person ends up just paying a very high interest rate for a small amount of money.
The volunteer coordinator for the Fremont Family Resource Center site is Shalini Mongia. She emphasizes the importance of ensuring that all eligible people file for a refund. They also offer literature and information on assisting people with asset development and "helping people acquire good management skills of their financial assets."
The IRS also provides tax preparation assistance for seniors known as Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. To find the nearest TCE site, call the IRS toll-free Tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040. You may also call AARP, at 1-888-227-7669 or visit www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org.
Interpreters available for: Farsi, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil, Tagalog, Mandarin, Spanish, Korean, Cantonese, French, Marathi, and Norwegian.
Tax Preparation Help
Every Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Fremont Family Resource Center
39155 Liberty Street, A110, Fremont