Daily News (Kentucky)
By: Justin Story
March 18, 2012
Free tax preparation service expecting record numbers
With about a month left before the tax deadline, Barren River Asset Building Coalition officials are anticipating a record number of people taking advantage of the free tax preparation service it offers to low-income taxpayers.
A community partnership formed from local nonprofit agencies, BRABC operates nine sites in the Barren River area, including three open to the public in Bowling Green, where people who earn low to moderate income can go for the free service as well as advice on how to manage finances.
As of Monday, 1,144 people have filed electronic tax returns through BRABC, according to program coordinator Ryan Braber. Of those filers, 513 have been able to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Overall, the nine Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites have been responsible for $867,265 in EITC money and more than $2 million in total refunds.
Braber said the number of filers thus far is almost the same as the number of people last year who had filed before April 1, 2011.
The program began in 2006 and has been maintained with financial assistance from the Internal Revenue Service and several area banks. The stability of certain tax sites plus word of mouth have combined to account for the increase in people who file through BRABC.
"Special attention is made to explain and educate taxpayers as to how taxes work and what's going on with their individual situations," Braber said. "A lot of people give us their tax paperwork and don't even know what's going on. I take a special interest in trying to educate people as to why their taxes are what they are and a lot of people say, 'No one's ever told me that before.' "
Tax preparation and financial literacy services are done by groups of volunteers who are certified through an IRS training program called Link and Learn Taxes.
The number of volunteers fluctuates from year to year and can dictate how many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites are open each tax season. Braber said 13 new volunteers were certified this year to work alongside those who are returning.
"We have to continuously work to replace and replenish our supply of volunteers," Braber said.
The free tax service is done through appointments, and when volunteer numbers are low, the time between scheduling an appointment and the appointment date can increase.
"Last year people were booked one or two weeks in advance at some sites," Braber said. "Volunteers are the backbone of this program's success."
Currently, BRANCHES of Barren County is the site that has had the most activity, with 359 tax returns accepted as of March 12. A taxpayer filing a return there has received an average Earned Income Tax Credit of $1,817.
PBI Bank is the second-most-used site and the most popular site in Warren County. A total of 217 tax returns have been e-filed there. The Housing Authority of Bowling Green and Community Action's Bowling Green office also house VITA sites.
Volunteers also assist with tax returns and financial literacy efforts at Barren River Area Safe Space, but that location is open only to BRASS clients.
BRABC outreach has extended this year with a mobile tax-filing site that came to Daymar College on Feb. 20.
"They just used our computer lab and ... if a student came to them and wanted their taxes filed, they were able to go online and fill out all their information and file their taxes," said Braden Wilson, director of student services for Daymar. "Anytime that anyone uses it is a success and, this being the first year, I only see that growing in the future."