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Volunteers offer free tax assistance

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

Tax season can turn into a very overwhelming time of year.

As the April 15 tax deadline approaches, organizations in Federal Way and the Puget Sound area are offering free tax preparation services for people with low to moderate incomes.

Through April 10, the Multi-Service Center in Federal Way will offer free tax services every Wednesday and Thursday evening in a first-come first-serve basis, with the help of United Way’s IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers.

The Federal Way Regional Library together with the AARP will also offer free tax preparation services by appointment.

Gary Robertson, an AARP Tax-Aid program coordinator, will provide tax assistance at the Federal Way Regional Library next month. People are usually overwhelmed by tax laws and many don’t know how to do their taxes, or don’t have the money to hire a tax specialist to do it for them, he said.

Linda Purlee, director of Emergency Services at the Multi-Service Center, said the main goal of this service is to have people get their taxes done for free.

This will be the fourth year the MSC has served as a host for this type of service. Last year, more than 500 tax returns were filed.

“The sooner people gather all the documentation that they need, the better,” Purlee said. “We want to make sure that our tax specialists are trained to help people who are eligible for a larger refund by claiming the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax.”

Every year, many people who show up to get help with taxes fail to bring proper documentation, said Octavia Hathaway, United Way tax specialist. These free services only specialize in helping with basic individual tax returns and don’t prepare business income taxes that include stock, rental income or sale of property.

Details and barriers:

In order for people to get help with their taxes, they need to have their tax documents in order — W2’s, 1098R’s, 1099R’s, etc. — a photo identification, a Social Security card for every person claimed on the return, and if applicable, a checkbook.

People should expect to receive in the mail the specific tax forms from their current and previous employers before Jan. 31.

Nowadays, most tax returns in Washington state are filed electronically; not only is this the faster method, but also the safest one.

“If you want an e-file, you need a check for the income tax to be deposited directly into your account,” Hathaway said. “This year in order for people to save some of their money, we are pushing on refund splitting, where half of the money can go into the taxpayer’s checking account and the other half into his savings account.”

Other problems that some people encounter at the time of filing taxes are language barriers. United Way has Korean, Spanish and Tagalog interpreters available every Thursday at the MSC for those who would benefit from this service.

During a recent tax session this month at the Multi-Service Center, the people who showed up were guided through the process step by step. Sessions last a maximum of 45 minutes and the process tends to go smoothly as long as everyone who shows up has all documentation in order.

“What jazzes me is helping people with numbers and choices. By giving advice, I feel I’m making a difference, especially when someone doesn’t know about things that they could qualify for, and that way keep part of their money in oppose to giving it away,” said Loretta Black, tax preparation volunteer and Federal Way resident.

Reyes Velaso, who filed taxes through the program last year, said he has been satisfied with the type of service he has received at no cost.

“People work incredibly hard for their money and some make a very modest amount for a living,” Purlee said. “It’s important to help people avoid paying unnecessary fees and keep every penny they can.”

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com.

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Learn more

Free tax preparation services are offered in Federal Way every Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Multi-Service Center, 1200 S. 336th St., on a first-come first-serve basis. To learn more, call (253) 838-6810.

Tax preparation services are also available by appointment at the Federal Way Regional Library, 34200 1st Way S. To learn more, call (253) 838-3668.

For online resources, visit www.aarp.org/money/taxaide/ or www.uwkc.org/taxcampaign/.

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