Dozens of local organizations offer free tax help

Tax season is upon us, and it can be a very stressful time. Given the complexity of the tax code, filing tax returns is daunting for many people, especially if English is not their first language.

But don’t fret. Several dozen local organizations offer free tax preparation assistance to the elderly and low-to moderate-income residents who have trouble filling out the forms and figuring out whether they qualify for various tax credits.

In partnership with nonprofit and community organizations throughout the country, the Internal Revenue Service offers the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for Elderly programs (TCE).

The VITA Program

The VITA program offers free tax help to people who make $50,000 or less. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic tax return preparation and help qualified individuals apply for special tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. Free electronic filing is available at most VITA sites.

According to 2-1-1 San Diego, a free phone and Internet resource, 31 organizations countywide provide services under the VITA program. Twenty of the 31 have offices within 10 miles of City Heights’ 92105 ZIP Code.

One local agency is Home Start. They are located at 5296 University Ave, Suite F2. Assistance is free. The office is open from 9 am to 3:30 pm Monday – Friday. Appointments are available by calling (619) 283-3624.

Other VITA sites in the City Heights area include: The Alliance for African Assistance, 5952 El Cajon Blvd., (619) 286-9052 and Maximizing Access to Advance Our Communities (MAAC), 5410 Bayview Heights Place, Unit 2, (619) 426-3595 ext. 1260.

For a complete list of VITA sites in San Diego County and their hours of operation, visit 211sandiego.org. You also can dial 2-1-1 or 1-800-906-9887 to find a location near you.

TCE Program

While the TCE program has no age limits, it is geared toward helping seniors with questions about pensions and retirement issues. The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retirees involved in the AARP Tax-Aide program.

There are 25 AARP Tax-Aide sites in San Diego County. For a complete list of the sites, visit 211sandiego.org. You also can dial 2-1-1 or  1-888-227-7669 to find a location near you.

Documents to bring to a VITA or TCE site

When visiting a VITA or TCE site, taxpayers should bring the following documents:

  • Photo ID
  • Social security cards for the taxpayer, spouse, and dependents
  • Birth dates for spouse and dependents
  • Wage and earning statements, such as W-2s and 1099-Rs
  • Interest and dividend statements
  • A copy of the prior year’s federal and state tax returns
  • Bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of tax refunds
  • Daycare expense receipts and daycare provider’s identifying information.

Both spouses must be present to sign the required forms if they are filing joint returns as a married couple.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides tax breaks ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for working individuals and families who struggle to make ends meet. Eligible working people without qualifying children can receive a refundable tax credit of up to $464. Those with three or more qualifying children can receive up to $5,751.

To get the credit, eligible taxpayers must  file a tax return and claim the credit. For those whose EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, they receive a refund.

Anyone who earned less than $49,078 in 2011 is urged to see if they qualify for the credit by using the interactive EITC Assistant on IRS.gov.  The EITC Assistant asks visitors to answer a series of questions to determine if they meet the criteria for the credit.