Just in time for April 18, where to find free tax help

Published: Tuesday, March 15 2016 5:00 a.m. MDT

Luis and Jaycee Torres get help filing their taxes with Daniel Simpson at the Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 11, 2016. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers free tax preparation assistance for elderly and low- to moderate-income taxpayers.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In just a few weeks, Tax Day 2016 will be upon us, meaning angst for some who dread having to pay the Internal Revenue Service, while others will be waiting for a springtime windfall otherwise known as an income tax refund.

However, for many Utah taxpayers, the thought of having to do their own taxes is just too daunting or they don’t want to risk making a mistake. There is help available, and much of it is free.

Luis Torres, 27, and Jaycee Torres, 22, have yet to file their own income taxes in the short time they’ve been married. They found out through Jaycee Torres' uncle about an IRS-sponsored program that offers free income tax preparation and have taken advantage of it the past two years.

“We get help from these people that have experience,” Luis Torres said. “It’s beneficial for us to come and get this done the correct way.”

The young couple made an appointment to have their taxes prepared at the Sorenson Unity Center in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake City. For years, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program has offered free tax help at the site. According to irs.gov, the program offers assistance “to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.” IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

“We don’t turn anybody away except for income (restrictions),” explained Greg McDonald, regional VITA volunteer coordinator for Salt Lake and Tooele counties.

Felipe Hurtado has used the service for several years. The single father discovered the program through Utah’s community resource service.

The United Way 2-1-1 Information and Referral is a statewide service of United Way of Salt Lake. The service connects individuals with community service programs including emergency food pantries, rental assistance, public health clinics, child care resources, support groups, legal aid, and a variety of nonprofit and government agencies that sponsor programs such as the tax assistance program.

Hurtado said the service has been particularly useful during the 29 years he’s lived in Utah.

“It’s efficient,” he said. “The people here are helpful, and it’s fast," and they understand any of the annual changes in tax rules and laws.

The Glendale site prepares taxes for about 300 people yearly, said site coordinator Alexa Wilson. Statewide, the number of filers is well into the thousands, she said.

“We have a lot of return customers, people who come back every year,” she said.

Wilson said that some people are intimidated by the process of filing their income taxes and often wait until the last few days before the April 18 filing deadline.

According to the IRS, the deadline to submit 2015 tax returns is Monday, April 18, 2016, rather than the traditional April 15 date. Washington, D.C., will celebrate Emancipation Day on that Friday, which pushes the deadline to the following Monday for most of the nation. Also, due to Patriots Day, the deadline will be Tuesday, April 19, in Maine and Massachusetts.

Wilson said getting people to understand how detrimental that behavior can be is a challenge.

“Don’t put it off,” she said. “Even if you think you owe money, it is always better to get it done because then you know what you have to deal with.”

Those who procrastinate find themselves in a more difficult predicament if they owe, she said, but filing earlier would allow more time to figure out a suitable plan to pay back any tax deficiencies.