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Free tax help available

MILLERTON -- It’s nearing the end of January, and it’s not unreasonable to start to think about spring, and the inevitable date April 15, otherwise known income tax day.

To help make the approach of that day easier, the North East Community Center (NECC) is offering VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. VITA begins Thursday, Jan. 31. It provides free tax help to area residents who qualify for the earned income tax credit (EITC).

"The basic idea is that low-income families don’t have $100 to $200 lying around to pay tax preparers," center Executive Director Jenny Hansell said. "We do it because we really identified the unmet needs in the community and we have the capacity to address this. We started doing this a few years ago before we had a plan in place. Now we’re finding new ways to help the neediest people in the community, who are important to us."

The EITC can help reduce taxes, supplement wages and even provide families with up to $4,716. Working families that make less than $40,000 a year or individuals who earn less than $12,590 a year, can qualify for the earned income tax credit.

"It’s like cash in your pocket," Hansell said of the tax credit, adding that the process of preparing one’s taxes may take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. "We’ll do a screening to make sure you qualify for tax credit."

The first thing that needs to be done is that the taxpayer must make an appointment by calling the community center at 518-789-4259, or by calling 211 (the United Way’s toll-free information helpline).

For the appointment, the taxpayer will need to bring proof of identity for self and spouse (if applicable), copies of all W-2 forms, the social security or individual tax ID numbers for all individuals listed on the return and any banking information for direct deposit or debit. Without that information, the center will not be able to help taxpayers file their tax returns. Hansell said she’s hopeful the center will be able to help a large portion of the community.

"It isn’t always easy to find ways to help people directly," she said. "Sometimes needy people just need more money, they just need a little extra financial boost, which can help them reach their goals, and this is something really concrete that we can do in that respect."

Hansell said the average refund is $2,000. Last year, the center helped 33 people, which brought roughly $66,000 into the community. This year’s goal is to do 100 tax returns.

The tax preparers have been trained by the Internal Revenue Service. They e-file the returns so that refunds usually arrive within 10 business days of being filed. There is no fee associated with this program, and filers are encouraged to wait the 10 days rather than take out a rapid refund loan at a high interest rate.

"In the long term it’s well worth the wait," Hansell said.

You don’t have to live in Millerton to be a part of this program. The center will do the returns of any resident of northeastern Dutchess County. For more information, call 518-789-4259.

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