Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 9, 2012

Local agencies prepare to aid tax filers

Katie Brandenburg
The Independent

ASHLAND — Two agencies in the FIVCO region will be open to help low-income residents file taxes and find refunds starting Jan. 17.

Safe Harbor of Northeast Kentucky and the Northeast Kentucky Community Action Agency are among many organizations across the state that will serve as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites during this tax season.

One of the goals at both of the sites will be determining whether people qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

The EITC is a refundable federal tax credit for low- and middle-income working individuals and families. Families that earned up to $49,078 in 2011 maybe eligible for EITC, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Pauline Wagner, finance coordinator at Safe Harbor, said the agency participated in the program last year and filed about 100 returns. This year she expects to double that number to 200. In addition to Wagner, several volunteers will also be coming in to help people file their taxes electronically while the program lasts.

Tax help will be available at Safe Harbor from Jan. 17 through March 30, she said. Families earning $50,000 or less can qualify for free help at Safe Harbor.

The program helping people with low incomes file taxes is important because it can help them take advantage of benefits they wouldn’t otherwise know about.

“A lot of them don’t realize all the tax credits that are available to them,” she said.

In the 2010 tax year, about 400,000 EITC claims were filed by Kentuckians and more than $876 million in benefits received. The average award was $2,200. It is estimated that between 15 percent and 20 percent of eligible workers don’t claim EITC benefits.

The service can also help people take full advantage of their benefits instead of paying out fees to a company to do taxes, Wagner said.

“It’s kind of like a refund to help the economy out,” she said.

Of the money paid out in benefits, an estimated 97 percent is put back into local communities, according to the press release.

Safe Harbor became involved in the VITA program last year through the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, Wagner said.

Northeast Financial Officer Aaron Braughn said this is the first year Northeast will serve as a VITA site.

He said using the free service to file online can help people get a tax refund faster than if they filed paperwork.

“We file these in real time as we’re talking to the clients,” Braughn said.

The service will be available at Northeast from Jan. 17 through April 16.

Those interested in getting tax help from the VITA program may call Northeast or Safe Harbor for an appointment.

Safe Harbor can be reached at (606) 329-9304; ask for Pauline. Northeast’s phone number is (606) 286-4443.

KATIEā€ˆBRANDENBURG can be reached at kbrandenburg@dailyindependent.com.