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Free tax help offered at DHEC through UWA program

Free help with tax returns is being offered for the first time at the Demopolis Higher Education Center through a program provided by the University of West Alabama.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers help people with basic tax returns, particularly those with low and limited income, with disabilities, non-English speakers and elderly taxpayers.

VITA volunteers will be at the DHEC on April 6 and 13 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. The service is available to anyone making less than $58,000 in annual income.

“People can just walk in; they don’t have to have an appointment,” said Sharon Stipe, an associate professor at UWA in accounting, finance and economics who is also a tax lawyer. “If they want to talk to one of us before they come, they can call us at (334) 287-0174, (205) 652-3846 or (205) 392-1166.

“The way it works is that we have software, and we bring laptops. We can actually do their returns and print it out, and then, we e-file it. They are on the same filing schedule that everyone else is, and it is all free.”

People calling the given phone numbers are asked to leave a number for someone to call, and they will be called back within a day.

“The program is to benefit the community,” Stipe said. “It’s offered with the support of the IRS, but it is made up of students who are learning how to do this with the professors supervising it. We’ve been doing this for eight years in Livingston, and we want to bring it to Marengo County.”

People who want to take advantage of the free tax help should bring their W-2 forms, their 1099 forms, the Social Security cards for themselves and their dependents and some form of identification.

“If they have it, they also need to bring their prior year’s return,” Stipe said. “It helps us sometimes. We’ve got all these new tax provisions this year, and it makes for some different numbers for some filers, and they don’t understand why it’s so drastically different than it’s ever been.

“If they bring their prior year’s return, I can compare it to the prior year and show them where the changes are, and it helps people understand better, sometimes, why they’re getting more money back or why they’re getting less money back.”

Stipe said that client privacy is guaranteed, and that anyone who is uncomfortable with a student doing his tax return may request that she do it.

“The university has made space, has donated five brand-new computers and three faculty classes are dedicated to this,” Stipe said. “UWA is committed to this program, totally committed, and they want it expanded. They fully support it, or I wouldn’t be doing this.”