Organizations offer tax help

Published 11:02 pm Monday, February 7, 2011

Phyllis Harrison, a resident services specialist with the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, talks with Ronnie Epps about preparing his taxes. SRHA and the S.T.O.P. Organization are offering free tax preparation to people who meet certain criteria.

It’s tax time, and many Americans are once again trying diligently to find ways to avoid filing their tax returns.

But for many people, the prospect of doing their tax returns can seem not only annoying and time-consuming, but also difficult and expensive.

“The majority of the people that are low to moderate income really cannot afford to pay the astronomical fees that are charged to them by the paid tax preparers,” said Shaun Scott, a program administrator with the S.T.O.P. Organization.

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Fortunately, however, S.T.O.P. and the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority have teamed up to help provide free tax preparation for Suffolk residents who made less than $49,000 in 2010.

For low- or moderate-income people, Scott said, there are a number of barriers to getting their taxes done affordably. For starters, paid tax preparers charge too much for lower-income people to afford them.

“There’s nothing wrong with paid tax preparers,” Scott said. “They are for the people that can afford them. But we want to try to help these families keep as much money as possible in their own pocket.”

Even with free options for filing available online, she said, some people may not have access to a computer or might be afraid of making a costly error.

“They may be fearful of doing the wrong things,” she said. “They’re afraid of making the mistake and not getting their refund at all.”

Furthermore, said Phyllis Harrison of SRHA, lower-income families might be more likely to pay extra fees for rapid refunds or refund anticipation loans, which also reduce the amount of money they are able to keep.

“This program is designed to help people in the community keep more money in their pocket and to encourage them to file their taxes in a more cost-effective way,” Harrison said.

Suffolk residents are eligible if they worked in 2010, made less than $49,000, and have simple returns, including basic deductions and itemizations. It is not restricted to SRHA residents or Section 8 beneficiaries.

The personnel will make sure customers get each credit they are entitled to receive, Harrison said, including credits for moderate-income people like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which could be up to $5,666.

The program is available by appointment through April 15. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 539-2100, ext. 326.