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Tax day is coming

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 9:00 a.m. CST
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(Katrina J.E. Milton – kmilton@shawmedia.com)
Jess Collins is the AARP Tax Aide site coordinator at the DeKalb County Community Outreach Building. Volunteers with the tax aide program work at sites throughout the county, preparing tax returns for middle- and low-income clients for free.

Spring is not the only season that hits in April: As April 15 approaches, tax season is reaching fever pitch.

Some people are eager to file their income taxes – and receive their refund – while others put it off until the last possible minute. As the deadline approaches, many tax preparers in the area are still available for appointments, both scheduled and walk-in. Many have extended hours until April 15, allowing last-minute filers to complete their taxes on time.

According to the IRS, more Americans are electronically filing their taxes on their own this year. The agency reported that by March 7, almost 27.4 million people had filed their own taxes, a 5.8 percent increase over the same period last year. The number of tax returns e-filed by professionals was down 2.2 percent over the same period.

Competition is fierce among commercial tax preparers, who offer a variety of discounts and incentives to attract customers. The AARP Tax-Aide program offers to file taxes for free for the elderly and families with low to moderate incomes.

“Although our goal is to help seniors and those with low income, we have no income limitation,” said Dave Leifheit, DeKalb County coordinator for AARP Tax-Aide. “We prepare taxes for free for anybody that comes in.”

Jess Collins, DeKalb County Community Outreach Building site coordinator for the AARP Tax-Aide program, said people usually wait to file because they think they will owe money.

“Filing your taxes with us for free helps with the burden of paying a preparer,” he said. “You can get more of the refund that you’re entitled to.”

Kyle Keun and his wife, Kimberly, searched online before using Tax-Aide to file their taxes. They weren’t confident about filing on their own, they said.

“People have been hit real hard with the economy,” Kyle Keun said. “We heard that AARP was offering free services, so we decided to come. We were scared about mistakes if we filed ourselves.”

John Saponari, franchise general manager of several local Jackson Hewitt Tax Service offices, said mistakes made when people file their own taxes online or with a computer program such as TurboTax reduce refunds by an average of $200.

“It’s why you should have somebody who is knowledgeable in taxes file for you,” he said. “Everybody has a guy: for your hair, nails, brakes, tires. You say that you have a guy. The times when you don’t have a guy, you ask around.”

Most professional tax preparers must pass a series of tests before they are hired by accounting firms. Though the tax preparers at the AARP Tax-Aide program are volunteers, they must complete a weeklong training session in January and score 80 percent or better on the qualification test. Upon completion, the returns filed through AARP Tax-Aide are double-checked by a second preparer to ensure accuracy.

Even though the IRS is operating with its lowest budget since 2008, there has been little to no delay in receiving tax refunds. On average, refunds arrive 10-12 days after tax returns are filed. The average refund this year is $2,969, up 2.6 percent from last year, according to the IRS report.

People who provide their tax preparer with a voided check can have their refund directly deposited into a bank account. Both Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block offer to have tax refunds directly deposited onto a Visa debit card. Refunds may also be mailed to a home address.

“It’s always the same thing each year,” Jennifer Johnson, a tax preparer for Jackson Hewitt, said. “But I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and I learn something all the time.”

Top Tax Tips from the IRS

1. Gather your records. This includes receipts, canceled checks and records that support income, deductions or tax credits.

2. Report all your income from all of of your Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statements, and Form 1099 income statements.

3. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant Tool on www.irs.gov to get answers to questions about tax credits, deductions and more.

4. E-file. Combining electronic filing and direct deposit is the safest and most accurate way to file.

5. Weigh your filing options. You can prepare it yourself or go to a tax preparer.

6. Look for tax credits. Don't overlook tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, based on income, filing status and number of dependents; the Child and Dependent Care tax credit for the cost of day care and day camp; the Saver's Credit for people earning $59,000 or less and contributing to a retirement savings plan; the Child Tax Credit of up to $1,000 for each child younger than 17 in your household; and the American Opportunity Tax Credit for students enrolled full or part-time in college. Find out more from your tax preparer or at www.irs.gov.

7. Check out number 17. IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, contains helpful information such as whether you need to file a tax return and how to choose your status.

8. Review your return. Social Security numbers and math calculations are the most common mistakes that can delay a refund.

Source: www.irs.gov

AARP Tax-Aide Walk-In Sites

DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St., DeKalb, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays until April 12

Sycamore United Methodist Church, 160 Johnson Ave., Sycamore, noon-4 p.m. Wednesdays until April 9

IDEAL Industries Product Training Room, 1122 Park Ave., Sycamore, 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays until April 5

Genoa Resource Bank, 310 S. Route 23, Genoa, 9 a.m.-noon Fridays and Saturdays until April 5

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