Business

Goodwill centers in Columbus offer free help for tax season

BY TONY ADAMS

tadams@ledger-enquirer.com

Most income tax return filers may not have all of the necessary documents yet, but the Internal Revenue Service will begin accepting returns for 2015 on Tuesday, while a Columbus organization also will start accepting clients.

“If they have their W-2s and proper documentation, they’re certainly welcome to bring it to us and get started,” Bridgette Russell, communication specialist with Goodwill of the Southern Rivers in Columbus, said Monday.

A Form W-2 wage and tax statement is a basic piece of official paperwork required to file federal and state tax returns. Employers have until Feb. 1 to mail the forms to workers, although some companies make them available online.

While there are plenty of commercial tax services in the area, it’s not necessary to pay to have returns completed and submitted. The IRS assists federal filers, while organizations such as Goodwill are there to help as well.

This is the sixth year that Goodwill will be preparing and filing tax returns for free through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. It uses preparers with IRS training and with the blessing of the federal agency.

The free assistance is available to individuals and households earning under $54,000 in 2015. Russell said the program helped with more than 4,400 returns in the region last year, resulting in about $4.6 million in refunds. The local Goodwill affiliate also has preparers in Newnan, Ga., and Valdosta, Ga. It serves 50 counties in all.

“But Columbus is our busiest site with more than 3,500 of those (submitted returns) in Columbus, resulting in $3.6 million in refunds,” Russell said.

The VITA program operates at Goodwill’s Career Center at 2607 Cross Country Drive, off Macon Road. But new this year will be free tax-return preparation at its locations in the Midland area of Columbus, 6707 Flat Rock Court, and in Phenix City, 3605 U.S. Highway 431.

While the Cross Country Drive office will start helping filers Tuesday — and accept walk-ins if space is available — the Midland and Phenix City offices will begin doing so on Feb. 1 by appointment only.

“It’s really important that people call and we’ll send them to where we have room,” Russell said. “We actually prefer for people to call first to schedule an appointment so that we do have an idea of who is coming so we can accommodate them. We try to make the process as smooth as possible.”

The number to call for more information and an appointment is 706-256-1837. More information also is available at www.GoodwillSR.org.

“It may start off a little slower as people wait for proper documentation, but usually around early February and, for sure, in March it’s steady all the way up until April,” Russell said of the free tax-preparation offered through Goodwill and VITA.

The IRS, meanwhile, said it expects to receive more than 150 million individual returns this year, with more than 80 percent of those prepared with software and filed electronically, with e-filing starting Tuesday.

IRS spokesman Mark Green, in the agency’s Atlanta office, said an estimated 4.7 million returns will come from Georgia, 4 million from Virginia, 3.1 million from Tennessee, and 1.4 million from Mississippi.

“We encourage taxpayers and tax practitioners to take a fresh look at the many benefits of e-filing,” he said.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen urges those seeking information and filing returns to check out the agency online at www.IRS.gov. That’s because, as usual, the traditional telephone-based customer service will be extremely hectic.

“Although we will have more people staffing our phones lines this year, we expect those lines to remain busy,” he said. “So we encourage people to visit the web first as the quickest and easiest way to get assistance.”

A quirk in the calendar also means filers will have an extra weekend to tackle their tax returns this year. An Emancipation Day holiday in Washington D.C. falls on Friday, April 15, which has resulted in the government giving people until the end of the day Monday, April 18, to submit their documents to the IRS. Those in Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19 because of Patriot’s Day falling on April 18.

The IRS said more than 70 percent of tax filers — about 109 million — received refunds a year ago. The refunds averaged $2,797 apiece.

FREE LOCAL TAX ASSISTANCE

• Goodwill Midtown center

2601 Cross Country Drive

Call 706-256-1837

Walk-in services and appointments 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday-Saturday

After tax season, only appointments accepted

• Goodwill Midland Career Center

6707 Flat Rock Court

Call 706-341-4724, option 4, for appointment

• Phenix City Career Center

3605 U.S. Highway 431

Call 334-664-9716, option 4, for appointment

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