Photo by Diane Cox
Organizers Tom Drake and Dave Thies stand behind Lewis and Clark Community College Associate Dean and Adult Education Coordinator Val Harris and volunteer Chris Fink in one of the computer labs that will be used to file taxes for qualifying residents free of charge.
GODFREY — Tax season can be a stressful time as families gather W-2s, paperwork and receipts with the hopes of receiving a refund.
Partnering with Lewis and Clark Community College for the last 14 years, the Alton Area Tax Project and the Gateway EITC Coalition aim to ease the sting of tax season for residents who qualify for the earned income credit by preparing returns free of charge.
“Lewis and Clark is a great location to perform this service for the community,” organizer Tom Drake said. “The college has a fantastic facility and we are receiving the use of two computer labs with plenty of space and privacy to serve the people.”
With a start date of Saturday, Jan. 30, Alton Area Tax Project volunteers will start preparing returns for walk-in clients at the Lewis and Clark Nursing Building on the lower level at 5800 Godfrey Road in Godfrey from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturdays and 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The service will be available until the official end of tax season on April 18.
The fees for filing taxes can range from $50 to $350 depending on the location and business in which a return is filed. For some taxpayers, the need for a speedy return has cost them more than 10 percent of their return in fees.
“We hope that many people will take advantage of this opportunity,” Drake said. “Last year, more than 1,400 people had their taxes prepared through the Alton Area Tax Project. We’ve saved people what must be thousands of dollars over the years who would have paid high fees out of their returns to cover the tax preparer’s cost and get immediate refunds.”
“Private and corporate tax preparers charge by the form and may not take the time to search for extra deductions. Our service is free and we do those additional searches in an attempt to get the most money for the members in our community.”
With more than 90 percent of returns filed electronically over the past several years through the free service, most returns are deposited in less than a week. Clients have the option of filing a paper return.
“The people we serve really need this free service,” volunteer Chris Fink said. “For some people, the return they get may actually be about one-third of their income for the next year. It’s just that important. A family with three children can get upward of $6,200 back in their return. That’s a lot of money, and we know they need it.”
Fink has been a volunteer with the Gateway EITC Coalition since it began. Volunteers are always needed and free training is available for all positions.
“We have greeters, intake volunteers, tax preparers and tech support,” Fink said. “Volunteers are needed to greet the taxpayers and using a check sheet, determine if the taxpayer has all the necessary information to have their tax return completed at the free tax site. If you don’t want to prepare taxes, we still need people to conduct the initial interview of the families. This involves asking the questions on an intake sheet and filling in the answers. We just need you to be a people person.”
Those interested in learning how to file taxes will be trained in the first two weeks of January. Organizers Tom Drake and Dave Theis will train interested individuals and help them through the Internal Revenue Service testing process.
“I think people who have done the training are quite surprised on how easy it is,” Drake said. “It’s OK if volunteers can volunteer just one day for the season or all three per week; we appreciate all the help they can give. Accounting students from LCCC and Greenville College will receive credit for volunteering. Some area high school students need community service hours to graduate; we will sign off for hours worked. We welcome anyone who is willing to give of their time; we can find a job for them to do.”
For volunteer information, contact Dave Thies at (618) 433-1966 or Tom Drake at (618) 980-3912. Visit www.gatewayeitc.org for information on eligibility requirements.