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Published: Tuesday, 2/24/2009

More filers seeking help keep sites for volunteer aid busy

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

This year s tax season has no confusing changes or pressing issues like last year s stimulus checks. But that doesn t mean people aren t in need of tax help.

Every year it gets more intense. More people are becoming aware of this service and they re calling earlier to get in, said Richard McCray, a coordinator of 10 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (Vita) network sites in the Toledo area and one in Port Clinton.

Some places have repeat returners and we re starting to get calls in October and November to set up appointments.

For example, the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union on Dorr Street had only a few clients a few years ago. But as word has spread, growing numbers of people are going there for tax help, Mr. McCray said.

James Harris, a finance major at the University of Toledo, is a volunteer providing tax help for a few hours daily three days a week at the credit union. He said he has had about 15 clients a week since the end of January, with many looking for help with the earned income tax credit.

They already know about [the credit]. It s no surprise to anybody, but they do need help filing for it, he said.

The Internal Revenue Service lists 28 sites in Lucas and Wood counties where taxpayers can get free help in doing their taxes. Some sites are run by AARP.

Free help also is available at the IRS office downtown in the Four SeaGate office building. Trained preparers will help with a tax form and answer difficult questions.

Toledoan Ron Bailey found the service useful yesterday about his tax status with regard to child-support payments.

I already had my taxes done at [a tax service] but they couldn t answer my question on this, Mr. Bailey said. This was free, so I thought I d come down here and give it a shot.

Afterward, Mr. Bailey said he got the answer he needed, and he left to contact a lawyer.

The Vita program handles tax assistance for middle to low-income taxpayers, and the AARP program is for senior citizens. Both are by appointment only and both are experiencing growing demand, program officials said.

Mr. McCray, who works as a tax preparer at 4 of the 11 sites he oversees, said many are booked through March 30 already.

And people are still calling to set something up, he added.

Barbara Sutherlin, a tax preparer who coordinates free tax help at the Sylvania Senior Center through AARP s program, said that site too is booked through March and she fears a few needing help may have to be turned away.

Fortunately, she said, there are not a lot of overly confusing issues this year and many who filed last year in order to get a stimulus check won t need to file this year.

Ms. Sutherlin said she and other tax preparers are trying to make sure homeowners get the new property tax standard deduction.

It is very helpful to the seniors, Ms. Sutherlin said.

The other thing a lot of people have been asking about is last year s stimulus check. They re not sure how to apply it and it s amazing when you ask people how much they got, how many people say, I don t know, she said. We ve had a few swear they only got $300, and then when you check, the government says they got the full $600.

Contact Jon Chavez at:jchavez@theblade.comor 419-724-6128.



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