Local taxpayers trying to make sense of the changing tax deadlines and guidelines can find help from the Lakes & Pines free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. 

And though the income tax deadline has been moved to Monday, May 17, Lakes & Pines Executive Director Bob Benes said the message to taxpayers is the same: Don’t wait. 

“The new tax codes provide for, hopefully, some more money in your pocket,” Benes said. “You could use that now sooner rather than later. And at the end, there’s going to be a rush. So get [your taxes] done early.”

Benes noted that there will be some other changes this year. Due to COVID-19, there will be no in-person interaction with taxpayers. Also, as tax rules have changed, there may be more opportunities for a larger refund.

 “If there are people who haven’t in the past filed taxes, but have young children, I’d encourage them to file this time,” he said. “You can’t get the tax credit unless you file, and some of the tax credits [for] children and particularly young children are pretty significant in their changes this year.”

He also noted that some taxpayers may have to check to see if the latest changes to the tax code affect their refund, most notably the $10,200 exemption for taxes for unemployment. He said those who have already filed might want to check one last time to see if they might be due a larger refund. 

‘That’s money that comes back into people’s pockets’

Benes said the free tax filing program has two main goals. The first is to help people who may not have filed taxes in the past to do so. He said that last year they helped just short of 1,000 people, and assisted them in getting refunds of over $1,000,000.

“And that’s money that comes back into people’s pockets and gets circulated into the community – whether that be paying off bills or buying products or going into financial institutions,” Benes said. “It comes back into this community, and builds this community. We want those funds ... spent here [at] your local restaurant, your local gas company, your local appliance store.”

Their second goal is to provide financial education, so that those who might be struggling with their finances can take steps toward getting that part of their lives in order. He said, for instance, that they have helped a number of people set up bank accounts. 

“Now they’ve got a relationship with either a credit union or a bank, and that’s a good relationship to have in terms of building credit and the ability to save,” Benes said. “And that’s part of that financial education as well. We certainly don’t hammer it, but it’s available for people that come in and find themselves in a situation where they might have more disposable income than they had in the past. If you aren’t used to having a $2,000 check in your hand, what might you do with it that’s going to help you between now and next year – as opposed to what’s going to help you just tomorrow?”

Benes said the best part of the program is seeing how the help they give makes a real difference in the lives of those who use it. 

“It’s the look on people’s faces – the relief that they can actually see an amount that’s going to come back ... and significantly help them, be it rent that needs to be caught up, that car that needs to be paid off or fixed, a new appliance [to replace one] that hasn’t worked for years. A light goes on at the end of the tunnel for them. That’s pretty exciting in our business.”

To make an appointment with the free Lakes & Pines VITA program, visit lakesandpinescacinc.fullslate.com/ or call 1-800-832-6082 (Press 4 at prompt).

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