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Free tax preparation available

Free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is taking a new form in Hamilton and Wright Counties this year, according to Barb Wollan of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Wollan, who coordinates local VITA outreach, attributes the changes to the need to reduce COVID risk for both clients and volunteers.

In addition, Wollan reports that “We’re also adding an exciting new self-preparation option, and providing assistance to clients who choose to prepare their own returns.” As a result, two VITA options are available locally: a two-step process in place of the traditional appointments, AND the “do-it-yourself” option.

Do-It-Yourself. Taxpayers can do their own federal and state tax returns free online, at a link provided by the local VITA site, while turning to the VITA program for help in choosing the right filing status and claiming the credits they are eligible for. That help will be offered through regularly scheduled virtual (Zoom) question and answer sessions, and through a dedicated email account where questions are answered within 24-48 hours. To get started, send an email to CentralIowaVITA@gmail.com, no sooner than January 21, and you will receive a response with instructions.

Two-Step Preparation by Volunteers. Those who prefer to have their tax return prepared by IRS-certified volunteers must make an appointment for a short (10-minute) intake meeting. BEFORE coming to that appointment they must complete two information forms (five pages total). Those forms were mailed to last-year’s clients on January 13. New clients can pick up copies of the forms at the County Extension Office (311 Bank St in Webster City OR 210 210 1st St SW in Clarion).

After the intake meeting the taxpayers’ information will be given to volunteers who will prepare the return. After a second preparer checks the return, the client will come back to review and sign the return. The process will take less than two weeks. Note: special provisions may possible for clients who live out of town, to avoid the need for a second visit.

Wollan particularly encourages families who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to take advantage of the free tax preparation. By avoiding tax and loan fees, these families can put 100% of those funds to use in ways that build financial security and help them reach additional financial goals.”

Eligibility. There are no eligibility rules for the “do-it-yourself” option. Taxpayers who wish to have taxes prepared for them by a volunteer must fit certain criteria, since there are some tax issues the IRS does not allow volunteers to address. Most taxpayers with income reported on W-2 or 1099 forms can have their returns done by the volunteers. Volunteers do not prepare returns farm or rental income, or in certain other complex situations. Taxpayers with low to moderate incomes are eligible – anyone up to $44,000 and families with two or more children up to $57,000.

To make an appointment in Webster City, call the tax appointment hotline (515-297-3717), and in Clarion call the Wright County Extension (515-532-3453). Local VITA efforts are supported by funding through the Iowa Center for Economic Success.

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