Community Action Duluth to provide low-income tax assistance at three sites this yearWhile quarterback Aaron Rodgers touts the benefits of the discount double-check for insurance, here in town Community Action Duluth volunteers are bringing the same concept to filing taxes: Double-check — you never know when you might be eligible for a tax credit.
By: Thomas Vaughn, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers touts the benefits of the discount double-check for insurance, here in town Community Action Duluth volunteers are bringing the same concept to filing taxes: Double-check — you never know when you might be eligible for a tax credit.
This year, volunteers at three Duluth locations will bring sound federal, state and property tax advice to low-income clients by focusing on the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a credit for people who work but do not earn high incomes. Proper filing can both reduce taxes and result in a refund. Eligibility is determined by a combination of income, marital status and family size.
Ranges of EITC eligibility are determined by factoring together income, marital status and family size. The EITC website offers eight categories of eligibility for tax year 2011.
A single person with no children, whether a young head of household or a widow, must make less than $13,660 in income to qualify for the EITC. On the other end of the scale, someone who is married and filing jointly and has three or more children must earn less than $49,078 to qualify.
The range of credits that can be applied to taxpayers eligible for the EITC run from $2 to $5,751, according to the website.
In January, volunteers who will serve as tax reviewers met at Laura MacArthur Elementary School for a training session led by instructor Tom Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick outlined this year’s procedures for how to review returns after they’ve been prepared by volunteer tax preparers.
“Part of our site requirement established by the IRS is that we do a review of every tax return by individuals who are very familiar with the tax law and our tax software,” said Fitzpatrick on the role of tax reviewers. “We have an extremely low electronic-filing rejection rate. We’re very proud of that and we want to make sure we continue doing that.”
Joanne Jokela, a retired social services supervisor, serves in dual roles as both a tax preparer and a tax reviewer; she has seven years of volunteer experience with this Community Action Duluth program.
“It’s rewarding to know that people who are struggling to make ends meet are getting back money that they’ve worked hard for during the year,” she said. “The EITC is especially important because it rewards work.”
In 2005, the tax program began at Community Action Duluth’s main office in Lincoln Park, located at 19 N. 21st Ave. W. In 2008, the Laura MacArthur site opened at 720 N. Central Ave. This year, a new site will open in the Ordean Building downtown, located at 424 W. Superior St. Walk-ins are welcome at the Lincoln Park office, but appointments are needed at the two other locations.
Julia Cheng, tax site coordinator and assets associate, began working for Community Action Duluth in 2009. She oversees the opening of the three office sites each tax season as well as teaching financial literacy classes throughout the year.
“This year we have a record number of volunteers,” Cheng said. “By our last count, we’re probably going to have around 100 volunteers working. Last year we helped 1,600 people get $3.1 million in refunds.”
Volunteers serve clients in four capacities at each site. Site assistants welcome clients, assemblers help clients put their documentation in order and make sure clients are eligible for low-income tax services, preparers complete the tax returns, and reviewers check the work of the preparers.
Fitzpatrick, a retired CPA, has volunteered for seven years and is now a site coordinator.
“You don’t need to have an accounting or tax background,” said Fitzpatrick about what sort of life experience best suits someone interested in helping with the program. “But, we are looking for people who have prepared their own returns for a number of years and people who have a tendency toward working with numbers.”
Julie Christopher, a student at the College of St. Scholastica, will graduate this May with her bachelor’s degree in accounting. She participates in onsite training sessions such as the one at Laura MacArthur, and is tested and certified by the IRS, as are all volunteers with this program.
“I get an immediate reward from helping people,” said Christopher. “I see the benefit that I’m adding to other people’s lives.”
To learn more about tax services provided by Community Action Duluth, call (218)726-1665 or go to www.communityactionduluth.org. To learn more about meeting EITC qualifications, go to www.eitc.irs.gov.