Archive for Sunday, January 30, 2005

Volunteers ready to help Lawrence, area residents file

January 30, 2005


Filing a tax return needn't be a burden for anyone in Douglas County.

Just let Jack Connolly handle it.

"I don't like to do my own taxes. I like doing other peoples' taxes," said Connolly, one of a dozen volunteers set to help more than 1,600 people file their tax returns this season. "It's something we know how to do and enjoy doing it.

"We're there for you."

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, set to begin Tuesday, is among services available to Lawrence-area taxpayers as they prepare to meet the inescapable April 15 deadline for filing state and federal income taxes.

A year ago, Connolly and his cohorts -- most of them retirees with training in tax matters -- filed 1,422 state and federal returns on behalf of an estimated 1,600 people.

This year, they'll crunch numbers at several locations beginning Feb. 1:

  • Lawrence Senior Center, 745 Vt.: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays (e-filers only); and 9 a.m. to noon during the first Saturdays of each month.

  • Taxpayers can reduce their taxable income by using a standard deduction or taking advantage of the dozens of itemized deductions permitted by law. Many taxpayers know the common ones, like the deduction for mortgage interest paid during the year. Many aren't so obvious.Here are some commonly overlooked deductions, as compiled by tax advisers at TurboTax (not all taxpayers qualify to take these itemized deductions):¢ Personal property taxes on cars and boats.¢ Points paid on home mortgage or refinancing loans.¢ Job-related magazines, newspapers and professional journals.¢ Cellular phones required for business.¢ Union dues.¢ Work uniforms.¢ Fees for tax preparation or advice.¢ Medical aids such as crutches, canes and orthopedic shoes.¢ Hearing aids, eyeglasses and contact lenses.¢ The cost of some stop-smoking treatments.¢ Mileage incurred for medical transportation and charitable activities.¢ Cost of a safe deposit box for investments or business.¢ Job-seeking expenses.¢ Worthless stock or securities.
  • Baldwin Senior Center, 1221 Indiana in Baldwin: By appointment. Call (785) 594-2409.
  • Courthouse Square Apartments, 235 S. Main in Ottawa: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays.
  • Homebound, elderly taxpayers may arrange for in-home assistance. For more information or to make an appointment, call Connolly, (785) 865-3985, or Rita Lucas (785) 887-6070.

Overall, the program generally helps low- to moderate-income elderly residents, but the service is available for anyone needing help. Filers simply need to show up with their relevant tax information -- such as W-2 forms and 1099s for pensions, Social Security and other income -- and, if possible, last year's tax returns.

The volunteers do the rest.

"We do charge for copies," Connolly said. "We do this at the senior center, and they have a limited budget. I'd say the average tax return costs somebody 50 cents to a dollar. ... And it's cash only. Bring your nickels with you."

The program is sponsored by AARP and the Internal Revenue Service. Volunteer leaders receive training each year, and they, in turn, pass along instruction to volunteer preparers.

Kansas University law students also provide tax-filing assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, designed for low-income, elderly, disabled or non-English speaking people.

The VITA program typically provides assistance at the law school in Green Hall, and at various agencies in the area, such as Penn House and the Salvation Army. Call 864-9927 for more information.

The programs help people tackle the at-times daunting prospects of filing taxes with a minimum of trouble, Connolly said. He figures that a typical return takes volunteers 30 minutes to an hour.

"Single moms? We can get them the earned income credit," he said. "We can get them something that's expanded again this year: the child tax credit. That's up to a thousand bucks a kid in certain circumstances.

"We do a lot of folks that get the homestead exemption. They're not (always) required to file federal (forms), but they come to us and we get them the Kansas food sales tax refund and the homestead refund. ... We check their income, and if they're eligible, we get them those two benefits from the state of Kansas."

For food sales tax refund, he said, the maximum income is $26,900. The refund could get a married couple $72; a single mom with one child could get $108, or $216 if the family's income is below $13,450.

The maximum allowable income for the homestead exemption is $26,300. The refund is based on a sliding scale based upon the amount of money paid for rent or in property tax.

"That's real money," Connolly said.

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