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Volunteers provide help to file taxes

AARP volunteer tax preparer Stephanie Pruitt double-checks her math while processing a return at American Legion Post 178 on Feb. 6. - Kirk Boxleitner
AARP volunteer tax preparer Stephanie Pruitt double-checks her math while processing a return at American Legion Post 178 on Feb. 6.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The United Way of Snohomish County and the AARP are offering area taxpayers a few different ways to prepare their income taxes free of charge this year.

The Marysville Goodwill’s Job Training and Education Center on 9315 State Ave. is providing free tax preparation services Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30-8:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., through Tax Day on April 15.

Marysville’s American Legion Post 178 at 119 Cedar Ave. is likewise providing free tax filing help, albeit for military personnel and taxpayers with low to moderate incomes, Mondays and Fridays from 4-8 p.m., and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Both the United Way and the AARP sites are accepting clients on a first-come, first-served basis, but the AARP site allows clients to call 425-220-4940 to reserve meeting times in advance, whereas the United Way site cannot schedule appointments.

“We helped prepare 28 returns within our first two weeks, and the average return had a $3,043 tax refund,” said Sue Fernalld, free tax preparation campaign site manager at the Marysville Goodwill. “We work with clients one-on-one and use the latest computer software to make sure they receive all the tax credits for which they’re eligible.”

“There are a lot of benefits out there that we try and make them aware of,” said Linda Jacobus, one of the volunteers at the Marysville site. “If they can save money on medical, dental, food or utilities, that’s more money that can be put to other needs.”

Fernalld stipulated that the upper income limit for filing at the Marysville Goodwill is $51,000, and that clients need valid photo IDs for themselves and original Social Security cards for all their claimants.

“We’ve had to turn people away some evenings, and we’re still down from the number of clients we saw by this time last year,” Fernalld said.

Neil Parekh, vice president of marketing and communications for the United Way of Snohomish County, explained that, as of Feb. 4, the Marysville site’s earned income tax credits added up to $25,433, and its total refunds amounted to $72,819, with an average income of $23,505 for its clients.

“Countywide, we have filed about 100 fewer returns compared to the same period last year,” Parekh said. “This is due mostly to the IRS’ delay in the start of the filing season, to Jan. 30 this year instead of Jan. 15. Our free tax preparation sites opened Jan. 22, but many people had not received all of their tax forms yet. Some taxpayers may still actually be waiting for forms they need to file an accurate return.”

Although the IRS will not be ready to accept certain forms associated with the education tax credit until mid-February, Parekh reassured those who have already filed their taxes through a United Way of Snohomish County free tax preparation site that they don’t need to come back.

“We have their paperwork on file and will submit their return once the IRS is ready,” Parekh said.

Marysville’s Bianca Galvan has been coming to the United Way’s free tax preparation centers for the past three years, and for this busy mom of six children, the price is just right.

“Some places charge a lot of money for the same services,” Galvan said. “Not only does the United Way try and find me as much money as possible in my returns, but they also give me ways to save money on shopping and transportation. They do a really good job and really help a lot of people without asking for anything in return. Not many people do that anymore.”

Pete Stachowaik is volunteering as a tax preparer at both the Marysville Goodwill and the Legion Hall this year, and he attributed many of his clients’ concerns at both sites to TV commercials by for-profit tax preparers.

“These companies have people scared to do their own returns out of uncertainty,” Stachowaik said. “I really enjoy doing taxes for people, because I get to meet new people and help them out. Many of them don’t even realize they’re eligible for things like the earned income tax credit.”

“One lady was so happy to get a refund that she almost cried,” said Amy Howell, one of Stachowaik’s fellow volunteers at the AARP free tax preparation center. “Another got so much more than she expected that she swore she’d buy her daughter a car.”

 

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