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.
In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to senior citizens. The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS, according to the IRS website.
McDonald said that the majority of lower-income taxpayers are eligible for the earned income tax credit — a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children. The amount of the benefit is dependent upon a recipient’s income and number of children, he said.
He also said using commercial software can be a relatively low-cost option. And these days, the retail online programs do much of the calculation work automatically, requiring the user to just input information, he said.
“You can get cheaper (programs) where (multiple users) can share the cost,” he said. “(In some cases), you can get three returns off the same package.”
For many taxpayers, filing their income taxes can be simpler than they might expect, and most could probably file their own if they only have a few deductions to consider.
“If you don’t have any life changes, you can even take last year’s return and go to a free tax site (and do your own taxes),” McDonald said. “Any software will figure a lot of that stuff out.”
He noted that purchasing a home or some other significant life change could complicate a return, so taxpayers should be mindful of such things. In those cases, seeking professional assistance could be advantageous.
Important documents: Taxpayers should consult a qualified tax preparer to determine what documents are needed for their individual return.
- All Form W-2s for wages, salaries or tips.
- All Form 1098s received for mortgage interest paid.
- All Form 1098-Ts for tuition and fees paid for higher education.
- All Form 1099s for interest, dividends and state tax refunds.
- All Form 1099-Rs for pension income or withdrawals from IRAs or 401(k)s.
- Closing papers if you bought, sold or refinanced a home during the past year.
- Social Security Cards for yourself and anyone else you are claiming as dependents on your tax return. Returns will be rejected by the IRS if names and Social Security numbers do not exactly match the data on file with the Social Security Administration.
- All copies of Forms 1095-A, 1095-B or 1095-C indicating that you have health insurance coverage. If no Form 1095-A, 1095-B or 1095-C was received, provide proof of medical insurance coverage for yourself and any dependents claimed on your return for the entire year.
- Signed Health Insurance Declaration form.