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March 8, 2010

 

Cooperative Extension volunteers offer free tax help

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Volunteer tax preparer Gail Bundy, left, prepares the income tax returns for Mark and Arlene Barrow of Cortland Saturday in the Cortland County Office Building.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Arlene and Mark Varrow of Cortland spent an hour Saturday at the Cortland County Office Building having their taxes prepared by volunteer services of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County.
The Varrows have been having their taxes prepared by the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program for the past few years to save money, Arlene Varrow said.
“I have terminal cancer and I can’t afford the expense (of filing my own),” Arlene said as she sat with her husband and waited for their information to be processed by a volunteer.
The program is provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Area Agency on Aging, CAPCO, Cortland Works Career Center and the JM Murray Center, which work together to offer the service. Cornell Cooperative Extension is the lead agency, coordinating the program.
Barb Henza, financial and consumer educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension was the site coordinator at the County Office Building Saturday.
Henza said Cornell Cooperative Extension also had volunteers preparing taxes in Cincinnatus on Saturday.
The income tax preparation program is an IRS-sponsored program, said Henza.
Cortland has offered the program since 2005. It runs Jan. 23 to April 15.
The IRS trains the volunteers to prepare the taxes and provides the printers, computers and software. The service is free and saves people the cost of filing their own taxes.
Henza said that the IRS determined Cortland to be a good location for the service because of the number of people who are earned income tax credit eligible in the area and the number of the returns filed. In order to be eligible for these credits, a family with three children must earn an income of less than $49,000, Henza said.
This income level drops to $44,000 if a single parent is filing and the qualifying income level fluctuates based on the number of children in a household.
The tax preparation service is offered to anyone who has an income less than $49,000, said Henza.
Henza said residents make appointments through Cornell Cooperative Extension ahead of time in order to have their taxes prepared through the service. Then residents must bring their W-2 forms, 10-99 forms, and social security card and a photo identification.
Volunteer Jean Ardis took a break from preparing taxes Saturday to talk about the process.
Common concerns people have include whether they have withheld the proper amounts from their paychecks. This is the amount an employer deducts from salaries as payment to the IRS, the state, social services and Medicare.
The IRS is offering many good tax credits now, Ardis said.
People are given tax deductions if they have bought a new car recently or if they pay property taxes. There are also credits that are based on income levels and can result in a payment of up to $400.
Ardis called the tax preparation program a “nice thing to do for people.”
Although the program has been offered for the past five years, Henza said people are still surprised to find out about it.
Alice Huynh, a senior at SUNY Cortland, volunteers to do the tax preparations for internship credits associated with her business economics major.
Huynh said she starts the preparation by making sure people have all the forms they need and then she goes through the process from there.
“People ask what we are and why we are doing it,” Huynh said of some common concerns people have about the service.
Henza said she finds people often return every year but sometimes there are so many appointments people have to wait for a couple of weeks and end up going elsewhere.
“We can’t do it seven days a week,” Henza said, adding that the volunteer program simply offers people another option in addition to the businesses that provide tax preparation.

 

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