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Free tax help available through local agencies

Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(David Thomas - dthomas@shawmedia.com)
Jackie DiNatale, coordinator of outreach and finance for Kishwaukee United Way, and Dave Leifhert, AARP county coordinator, take questions on this year's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. Until April 13, residents that meet a certain income level can get free tax preparation help.

DeKALB – A number of local agencies are teaming up again this year to help citizens prepare their taxes for free.

Until April 13, residents can visit sites in DeKalb, Sycamore, Kirkland and Genoa to have certified volunteers prepare their taxes.

“We’re saving this population huge amounts of money,” said Samuel Schmitz, president of Goodwill Northern Illinois. The organization is partnering with DeKalb County Community Services Department, AARP-Tax Aide, Kishwaukee United Way, and Northern Illinois University.

Schmitz said the group completed nearly 1,500 tax forms last year, resulting in $1.6 million in state and federal tax returns as a part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Donna Moulton, executive director of the DeKalb County Community Services Department, recounted a story in which a woman paid $400 to have her taxes prepared by a professional and used the VITA program to double-check their work. It was all good, she said.

“We could have helped her with it and she could have saved $400,” Moulton said.

People who are looking to utilize these free services are advised to bring their Social Security card, a photo ID and any applicable tax forms.

Income restrictions apply to Goodwill Northern Illinois’ tax preparation sites. Individuals must have earned less than $25,000, and families less than $50,000, in 2012.

Schmitz added that residents with Internet access at home can file their taxes for free through their website, but it’s restricted to families and individuals with a total income of $57,000. He said it’s very similar to TurboTax and other tax preparation software.

There are no income guidelines for AARP-Tax Aide, although the program’s county coordinator, Dave Leifheit, said it is geared towards seniors and low-to-moderate income level individuals.

The volunteers are trained and certified by the Internal Revenue Service, said Jackie DiNatale, coordinator of outreach and finance at Kishwaukee United Way. Among the volunteers are 20 students from Northern Illinois University. Brad Cripe, an assistant professor of accountancy at NIU, described it as an exciting learning opportunity for his students.

“Many practicing accountants have their first clients and experience through a VITA site, as I did,” Cripe said. “The experience can be humbling, thrilling and even scary the first time. The service learning experience reinforces the concepts and theories I teach my students in the classroom.”

Britta Anderson, financial programs manager for Goodwill Northern Illinois, added that almost all of the students are getting advanced certifications as volunteers – meaning they are trained to handle different kinds of tax forms. She added that last year, VITA sites had an accuracy rating of better than 90 percent in submitting forms that were filled out correctly.

Residents who seek tax help can also get tips on how to invest their returns, Moulton said.

“For a lot of our folks, to achieve self sufficiency, they need to develop some mechanism for having some savings,” Moulton said. “And some of the tax returns are folks can receive are a perfect entry for us to be able to talk about how that can benefit their family going forward.”

Some of those options include savings bonds, savings accounts or planning out spending that money, she added.

“When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you don’t necessarily think about those kinds of things during the year,” Moulton said.

Goodwill Free Tax Help Locations, open Jan. 26 to April 13
Income guidelines apply. Single income less than $25,000 or family income less than $50,000 for 2012. Various mobile locations will be available throughout Northern Illinois. See www.goodwillni.org for dates and times.

• Goodwill Store, Community Room 1037 S. Annie Glidden Road DeKalb, IL 60115 Tuesdays, 3 to 8 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• Founders Memorial Library Student Lounge (Ground Floor) 217 Normal Road DeKalb, IL 60115 Wednesdays, 4 to 8 p.m.

Federal and state taxes can be filed online for free at www.goodwillni.org. Only for individuals and families with an income under $57,000 for 2012.

AARP Tax-Aide & DeKalb County Free Tax Preparation Sites

• DeKalb County Community Outreach Building Blank Slate Room 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road DeKalb, IL 60115 815-758-3910 Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m. by appointment only

• DeKalb Public Library 309 Oak St. DeKalb, IL 60115 815-756-9568 Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

• DeKalb Senior Service Center 330 Grove St., Suite #3 DeKalb, IL 60115 815-758-4718 Tuesdays, 1 to 4 p.m by appointment only

• Sycamore Methodist Church 160 Johnson Ave. Sycamore, IL 60178 815-757-1800 Wednesdays, noon to 4 p.m.

• IDEAL Industries Product Training Room 1122 Park Ave. Sycamore, IL 60178 Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon

• Kirkland Municipal Building 511 W. Main St. Kirkland, IL 60147 815-522-3557 or 815-784-6040 Tuesdays, 1 to 4 p.m. by appointment only.

• Genoa Resource Bank 310 S. Illinois Route 23 Genoa, IL 60135 815-784-8301 Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon

The Voluntary Action Center's bus service, TransVac, can arrange rides to these sites. Call 815-758-6641 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to make arrangements.

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