The Internal Revenue Service often is viewed as a “bad guy” in the taxation process, but the IRS actually is providing a program allowing local residents to get their returns prepared for free.
Lee Spencer of Pinnacle was one of those taking advantage of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program Friday afternoon at the Surry County Senior Center at 215 Jones School Road in Mount Airy.
Spencer sat by as a specially trained local volunteer used a computer to record his financial information, in a setting much different from a crowded commercial tax-preparation office filled by frantic taxpayers with W-2s in hand.
“It’s easy, accessible and nice people to work with,” was the assessment offered by Spencer, who took advantage of VITA for the second-straight year. The only local resources required for the IRS-sponsored program are volunteer preparers and the space they use.
Though it is being offered from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Friday at the “senior citizens” center, the service is open to people of all ages. But their household income must be in the moderate or low range — $50,000 or less.
“Which is almost anybody in Mount Airy now,” said Paul Eich, the volunteer who was assisting Spencer.
Further up the hallway in the former school building now used for various functions including the senior center, a smiling Rodney Gunter was leaving with his wife Kathy after having their tax forms filed.
“It saves paying somebody else to do it,” said Gunter, a retiree who worked at Renfro Corp.
“We need a lot more programs like that,” his wife said.
“It’s a wonderful program,” agreed Sheryl Gilliam, director of the Surry County Senior Center.
Gilliam said that even she and her husband now take advantage of the VITA service, after using a nationally known commercial preparer for years. The tipping point for them was facing a $250 charge to have that firm continue to file their taxes.
“We used the service last year,” Gilliam said of VITA, “and we got back about the same (refund).”
The availability of the free tax-filing program is not that widely known among local citizens, but hasn’t exactly been a well-kept secret, either.
“So far we’ve had about 60 scheduled appointments,” Gilliam said Friday afternoon. With the service available only on Fridays, the preparers are now booked up through March 8, with appointments being accepted for the remainder of the tax season.
Officials stress that the service, which started on Feb. 1, is available only through appointments — with no walk-ins accepted — which can be arranged at 786-6155, ext. 242 or 225.
In addition to simple federal income tax returns, taxpayers also can have simple North Carolina returns prepared at no charge. They are being filed electronically during February, March and April.
Gilliam said if someone is really needing to have their returns done in a hurry, she refers them to the local branch of the State Employees Credit Union, which also is providing the same VITA program.
For those with limited incomes, “it’s a huge service,” she pointed out.
Gilliam provided figures from March of last year, when the tax season was not complete, showing that the program then had already saved local residents more than $22,000, based on average costs for paid preparations.
Overall in 2012, the volunteer preparers processed 177 returns here.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.