Fortunately, if you’ve been unfortunate enough to earn less than $52,000 in 2009, you can avail yourself of free help in filling out your tax forms. There are seven locations in East County where a volunteer will personally help you fill out the forms or where you can join a group led by a person guiding you through those forms. The service is part of the United Way’s “Earn It! Keep It! Save It!” program that last year helped 47,166 Bay Area households claim $47 million in refunds.
Rene Tucker, site coordinator for the Eastbay Works Career Center in Brentwood and Antioch, has been involved in the tax help program for more than seven years. As the economy has worsened, the interest in getting free tax help has increased, she said. Last year the Brentwood site helped prepare 170 tax returns. As of last week they had already assisted 160 people in Brentwood and nearly as many in Antioch with still a month to go before the filing deadline.
One of the big advantages of the program is that it helps ensure you get as much of a refund or tax credit as you are owed, assuming you qualify. Last year the Brentwood center helped clients receive more than $76,000 in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refunds, and more than $200,000 in total federal refunds.
A lot of low-income people aren’t aware that they qualify for the EITC and wind up missing out on thousands of free federal dollars, according to Tucker. To qualify, you need to be 25 or older, have a social security number and earn $13,000 or less if you have no children (you can earn more, depending on the number of children, and still qualify). Many might also miss out on the new “making work pay” credit of up to $400 ($800 for a married couple).
While it’s not a lot of fun poring through the minutiae of tax forms, schedules and worksheets, it’s worth it to be able to help people in need. “One of the reasons I volunteer at all is the more human side,” said Tucker, citing the example of a young woman with several children. She had lost her job and, while waiting for her appointment for tax help, availed herself of the career center resources and found a job. She was able to save up enough money to purchase her first home with the help of a federal tax credit. “When she found out she was going to get $10,000, she jumped up and grabbed the volunteer,” said Tucker. “She was ecstatic. That’s really the reason why we do it.”
The following locations offer free tax help at the following times (appointments are recommended) for those who earned less than $52,000 last year:
• The Eastbay Works Career Center, 281 Pine St. in Brentwood; phone: 925-427-8516; hours: Wednesday, 5-9 p.m., Thursday, 5-9 p.m.
• The Eastbay Works Career Center, 4545 Delta Fair Blvd., Antioch; phone: 925-706-4830; hours: Tuesday, 5-9 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday, April 5 and 12, 5-9 p.m.
• Mt. Diablo Regional YMCA, 1250 O’Hara Ave., Oakley; phone: 925-625-9333; hours: Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
• Brentwood Senior Center, 195 Griffith Lane, Brentwood; phone: 925-516-5444; hours: Wednesday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
• Antioch Senior Center, 415 W. Second St., Antioch; phone: 925-778-1158; hours: Thursday, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
• Brighter Beginnings, 512 W. Fifth St., Antioch; phone: 877-427-7134; hours: Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
• Opportunity Junction, 3102 Delta Fair Blvd., Antioch; phone: 925-776-1133; hours: weekends and evenings (see the schedule at www.opportunityjunction.org/taxes).
You’ll need to bring the following items: photo identification (for you and your spouse, if filing jointly); Social Security card or ITIN for each family member; W-2 forms for all jobs held in 2009 and all 1099 or 1098 forms; child care provider information; landlord’s name, address and phone number for the California renter’s credit; a voided check for direct deposit of your refund; and last year’s tax return.
For more information on the tax help program, go online to www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org.