Free tax preparation for those making less than $50K per year

A free service could save you hundreds of dollars on your taxes.All it takes is a phone call.

The program, called VITA, involves certified volunteers e-filing people’s taxes. Those interested in the program must have a gross yearly income of less than $50,000.

Those who have already taken advantage of this service keep coming back for the savings.

Number by number, it all started adding up for Katherine Somers.

“Before I was paying at least $100 or more to get this done,” Somers said. “It was nice to walk away knowing I was going to get my whole check back.”

Somer's trip to the United Way to file her taxes proved to be more than a way to save time.

“It’s great that you can come in and get a free service,” she said. “It’s not costing me anything but I’m getting something from it. It’s just money that I can put toward something else.”

Free tax preparations for this year are already underway.

“These folks are thrilled not to have to pay to have something done that they’re required by law to do,” said Laura Stringfellow from the United Way of St. Joseph County. “We can let them meet that requirement and cost them no money.”

And, it's thanks to volunteers like Chris Petersen-Grosse that the program is possible.

“They get so excited when they see their refund amount and know that they are going to have that in six to 10 days in their account,” Petersen said.

And, it is that interaction that encourages the volunteers to come back year after year.

“What they like about doing it is that they get that feeling that they have actually been able to help someone, to touch that person's life,” Stringfellow said.

The average taxpayer using this service makes $18,700 per year, according to Stringfellow.

“We’ve been able to get you every credit and deduction that you’re eligible for and it does make a difference in some returns,” Stringfellow said. .

Some start off skeptical.

“Some people don't believe it at all,” Petersen said. “They just come in and say this is free?”

But, the numbers do not lie.

“They all seemed very knowledgeable,” Somers said. “It was a seamless transaction for me.”

There are tax preparation sites in St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall and Kosciusko counties.

To make an appointment, dial 211.

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