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Tax deadline means extra hours helping members
MADISON, Wis. (4/13/12)--With the April 17 tax deadline approaching credit unions nationwide are dedicating resources to helping community members prepare their tax returns.

The Wisconsin Credit Union League maintains the website www.freetaxrefund.org, which explains how consumers can access a free refund whether they prepare their own taxes, use a paid tax preparation service, or use a free tax preparation service. The site explains how to use direct deposit to get a no-cost tax refund, where to find free tax assistance sites and what to bring for help with filing.

Each of Wisconsin's more than two million credit union members already has a savings account that can be used to receive a free tax refund, according to the Wisconsin league.

Many credit unions are offering their expertise through the Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program. Also, IRS has a Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offering free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older.

VITA offers free tax help to people earning $50,000 or less. It provides trained and certified community and credit union volunteers to help taxpayers access special tax credits and complete their forms. Through the VITA program, credit unions help lower-income consumers keep more of their EITC refunds in their own pockets, according to the National Credit Union Foundation's REAL Solutions VITA site.

Taxpayers who qualify can claim the EITC credit and could pay less federal, tax, no tax, or get a tax refund. The credit is for low-income working families to offset the burden of Social Security taxes and provide an incentive to work (News Now Jan. 30).

GHS FCU, Greenville, S.C. used volunteer tax preparers from Broome Community College to assist with its VITA program for low-income families (Press & Sun Bulletin March 29).

In a Pennsylvania Credit Union Association Highway Quick Poll, 40%, or 32, of 80 responding credit unions said they are offering VITA services this year (Life is a Highway Feb. 17).

Responding Pennsylvania credit unions also offered feedback on how they would provide tax preparation services. Responses included:

  • 84% said they will use certified employees to prepare tax forms in branch;
  • 45% said they will serve all eligible consumers;   
  • 22.6% said they will provide free space for VITA volunteers in branch;
  • 9.7% said certified employees will prepare tax forms at other locations; and
  • 6.5% said they will serve only eligible members.
The $876 million asset Georgia United CU, Duluth, Ga., is partnering with IRS and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences of the University of Georgia to provide its VITA program.

State Employees' CU, Raleigh, N.C., will operate its VITA until April 17. It has offered the VITA service for four years and its own low-cost tax preparation service for consumers earning more than the $50,000 VITA annual income cutoff for two years. In 2011, SECU tax preparers filed more than 53,000 returns, with members receiving $82 million in refunds and saving $7.9 million in tax preparation fees.

For the ninth year, the $4.2 billion asset Bethpage (N.Y.) FCU is helping low- to moderate-income households on Long Island through the VITA program at 12 of its branches. Bethpage FCU is making available 150 IRS-certified volunteers, including bilingual tax assessors, to members and nonmembers.

Royal CU, a $1.2 billion asset credit union in Eau Claire, Wis., is among the credit unions offering the VITA program. Royal CU offers assistance filling out basic tax forms (1040EZ, 1040A and 1040). Volunteers are University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College accounting students certified by the IRS, says RCU's website (News Now Jan. 31).

More than 100 Michigan credit unions are offering Just File It, a web-based program that allows individuals and families to file for state and federal tax credits that might otherwise be overlooked, said First Community FCU, Parchment, Mich., one of the credit unions offering the program. The program uses a free, online software program that poses questions to users and offers assistance via online chats. The technology was development by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, California.

Oregon Community CU, Eugene, Ore., is again offering the use of a meeting room and equipment to host a Tax-Aide site for the AARP Tax-Aide program. The credit union's South Eugene branch is serving as a Tax-Aide through Saturday. Tax-Aide is available to all taxpayers with low to moderate incomes, with special attention to those ages 60 and over. Membership with AARP is not required.

North Side Community FCU, Chicago, offered free and reduced rate tax preparation services on April 5 and April 12 to both members and nonmembers.

For tax filers fortunate enough to get a refund, Nino Gemma, CEO of Stark FCU, Canton, Ohio, offers these recommendations for making good use of the funds (CantonRep.com April 2):

  • Build an emergency fund;
  • Pay off credit cards;
  • Make a down payment;
  • Start a college fund; and
  • Invest in home improvements.
See related story, "Last-minute tax tips on H&FF Radio," in News Now's Consumer News section.


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