Legions of Taxpayers Get Help Filing Their Tax Returns

As the days dwindle until April 15, the lines outside tax assistance programs throughout the state are lengthening.But many seniors and low-income residents throughout Colorado are getting some free help navigating their way through the tax code.

“We save them mega money,” said Mary Ellen Kettelkamp, who has volunteered for the Adams County Tax Assistance Program the last eight years.

Kettelkamp, who has worked as a tax preparer for H&R Block, said she helped one young woman sort through 14 W-2 tax forms and unemployment checks, which spared her the cost of paying a professional to help file the pile of paperwork.

“It would have been an atrocious cost for a very low-income (person,)” Kettelkamp said. “They just charge you up the wazoo.”

Sherry Morales said she’d just discovered the service and was relieve to be spared the expense of hiring a tax professional as she had in past years for about $250.

Ryden Curtis, a senior waiting in line for tax help April 10, has used Adams County’s service for the past three years.

“It’s just handy and they know all the rules,” Curtis said.

And this year, more people need help completing their tax paperwork. Residents living on fixed incomes such as Social Security or disability aren’t normally required to file personal income tax returns, but to get this year’s economic stimulus check, they must go through the unfamiliar process.

“I don’t file taxes, so it’s a whole new process,” said Dan Morales, who is on disability. “It’s a learning experience too.”

George Mazzotti, program coordinator, sat down with Morales and his family, and together they completed his paperwork with 20 minutes. The hardest part was deciding whether to have his economic stimulus check mailed to his home or directly deposited into his bank account.

Adams County’s Tax Assistance Program has already helped 1,500 residents file for their economic stimulus checks, said Mazzotti, as he bounced between his four volunteers and a growing line of assistance seekers.

Statewide, 29,563 residents had sought tax assistance through the Volunteer income Tax Assistance (VITA) program by April 7, which is 8 percent more than at the same time last year, said Terry Donohoue, Denver territory manager for VITA, the Internal Revenue Service’s face-to-face tax assistance program.

VITA teams up with programs like the United Way and Head Start that are already established within communities across Colorado to offer income tax assistance at 125 locations including libraries, schools and military bases.

The AARP runs about half of the sites but the majority of the 36,000 low-income filers Donohoue expects to help this year aren’t elderly, he said.

“We want them to get the money and use it for themselves,” Donohue said.

The program serves anyone making less than $40,000 annually and reaches out to the state’s rural and Spanish-speaking populations.

“Once they come to a volunteer site they come back year after year after year,” Donohue said.

Free tax-assistance services also present a boon to the local economy, with about two-thirds of the money that income tax filers save by not having to pay a professional to file their taxes being spent in their own neighborhoods, Donohue said.

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