Free tax-prep help available for many area residents

WASHINGTON — Preparing tax returns can be intimidating, but free assistance is available across the region for low- to moderate-income families, and it could save them money.

“This area actually has one of the highest percentages of taxpayers eligible to take advantage of both the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program — we call it VITA — as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit,” said Timothy Johnson, of the United Way of the National Capital Area.

VITA volunteers mobilized by the United Way NCA and its partner organizations are available to file 2015 returns for taxpayers with a household income of less than $54,000.

“Just last year alone, we were able to do nearly 12,000 returns for the area,” Johnson said. “Those 12,000 returns equated to more than $14 million in tax refunds.”

Taxpayers who don’t seek professional help preparing their tax returns might not realize they’re eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“It offsets how much income tax that you have to pay specifically for federal income taxes,” Johnson said. “It amounts to money back. It actually adds to your refund.”

Because it is a refundable tax credit, taxpayers may get money back, even if they had no taxes withheld during the year.

Volunteer tax preparers are available at more than 45 locations in the region until as late as this year’s tax day deadline, April 18.

In D.C., 11 locations are hosting the VITA program.

VITA sites in Northern Virginia include locations in Manassas, Leesburg, Chantilly, Herndon, Reston, Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria.

In Maryland, VITA volunteers are sprinkled throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The volunteer tax preparers speak a collection of languages that reflect the diversity of the region. At the University of Maryland College Park VITA at the Robert H Smith School, for example, you can get help in English, Spanish, Chinese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Russian and Hebrew.

If you intend to use the free service, Johnson recommends calling the location you’ll visit before going in person.

“Generally speaking, your W-2 is what you need. But there might be requirements for you to bring other documents,” Johnson said.

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