From the holiday season to the tax season

As originally published in the Our Towns section of The State Journal-Register  on Sunday, January 3, 2016.

John KelkerThis weekend marked the end of the 2015 holiday season as we ushered in the New Year with celebrations, new resolutions and wishes for a more hopeful future. However, now that New Year’s Day has come and gone, it’s time to begin thinking about the upcoming tax season.

For many, there is nothing less exciting than filing income taxes. Yet, would you feel differently if I told you that families living in Sangamon & Menard Counties could save more than $3.5 million when filing their taxes this year?

This may seem like a lofty amount, but in reality, more than 18,000 families living in our community qualify for free tax preparation through the MyFreeTaxes.com website, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. With families paying an average of $210 to prepare and file their taxes, this amounts to over $3.5 million in potential savings for local families.

MyFreeTaxes.com provides free, safe federal and state tax preparation and filing assistance – both online and in-person – in all 50 states to individuals and families with a 2015 household income of $62,000 or less for online filing. This national initiative, a partnership between Goodwill Industries International, National Disability Institute, and United Way – and sponsored by the Walmart Foundation – has saved working families more than $10 billion since 2009.

This year, more than 400 local United Ways will participate in free tax preparation efforts, leading coalitions, recruiting and training volunteers, and providing marketing and outreach support. Among those involved is our local United Way who has participated in the MyFreeTaxes program for the past three years.

Locally, nearly 150 households used MyFreeTaxes.com to file their tax return in 2015. This resulted in more than $300,000 of tax refunds, credits, and savings in tax preparation fees. The only criterion to file online with MyFreeTaxes is an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $62,000 or less.

MyFreeTaxes.com provides handy checklists, frequently asked questions and step-by-step instructions to walk you through the tax preparation process. As important, those using the MyFreeTaxes.com website are provided access to our free national helpline, connecting you with IRS-certified specialists that can provide tax and software support. In addition, MyFreeTaxes.com provides great tax savings tips on how you can make the most of their refund while saving the costs associated with tax preparation and refund advances.

The MyFreeTaxes website, helpline, email and chat support are available in English and Spanish. However, MyFreeTaxes recommends at least third grade English comprehension to file online, as the IRS only allows tax returns to be submitted in English.

For taxpayers concerned about website safety and security. MyFreeTaxes software is provided in kind by H&R Block®. The software uses Secure Transmission Control Protocol, the highest industry standards to safeguard taxpayer information.

MyFreeTaxes was created to help working families save money while providing the technology and assistance they need to assure they are receiving the tax credits and deductions they qualify for. The program provides families a way to better understand their finances and avoid many of the tax scams and schemes which pop-up each January. If you or your family has a household income of less than $62,000, we encourage you to use MyFreeTaxes.com or visit our website, www.springfieldunitedway.org, in the coming weeks as we post local tax assistance programs offering in-person help to low income families.

John Kelker is the president at United Way of Central Illinois. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.