Tax prep help available to low income residents

MANISTEE COUNTY — Local residents seeking assistance with filing taxes have several options to save money and make the process easier, through local partnerships and services in the community.

Michigan’s individual income tax filing season officially began on Jan. 29, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Michiganders are now able to file their 2017 tax year state individual income tax returns, either online or through the U.S. Postal Service. All individual income tax returns must be e-filed or postmarked by April 17.

After Feb. 5, limited quantities of printed tax forms will be available at public libraries, northern Michigan post offices, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services county offices and Treasury Field Offices.

While residents begin to file their taxes, high costs for tax preparation and e-filing services often hinder the process for low-income families and individuals.

This year, United Way and H&R Block are teaming up once again to offer its premium, free online tax preperation service at myfreetaxes.com. MyFreeTaxes is the only free, national tax filing product that’s online and offered by a nonprofit.

To be eligible, a household must have earned less than $66,000 in 2017, to file both federal and state returns for free using MyFreeTaxes. Over the course of its existence, United Way has made the program available to over 100 million U.S. taxpayers.

Although the program has been around for many years, Rose Fosdick, Manistee County United Way director, said in Manistee County, only 23 people used the service last year.

However, this year, she said the nonprofit is spreading more awareness on the program, as it can save residents hundreds of dollars that are typically spent filing taxes.

“They do not have to come in and register, they can just go online directly,” said Fosdick. “With this, residents do not have to pay to have their taxes processed. It also does screenings for any tax credits, so it makes sure to maximize their return.”

For those who are stuck during the process, an online chat with trained professionals is featured on the website for assistance.

“They do have trained IRS folks if you get stuck and there’s a problem,” she said. “It is the H&R Block premium service, which is the top of the line it has — but instead of paying, it’s free.”

To use the service, go to myfreetaxes.com on either a desktop or mobile, or call Manistee County United Way at (231) 723-2331 for help.

Another service is the Manistee Senior Center’s annual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance team, which helps to prepare returns for qualified Manistee County seniors who are 60 years and older.

Volunteers are required to attend a three-day training, and use the program TaxWise to file returns. Volunteers will be available every Monday and Thursday starting on Feb. 22.

The team typically helps with around 300 tax returns per year through the program.

“It’s a free service,” said Sarah Howard, executive director of the Manistee County Council on Aging. “It’s a program we have been doing for years, and we have a lot of seniors come in and take advantage of it. We usually have about four people every hour, and the volunteers start at 9 a.m.”

Those interested can call to schedule an appointment with the Senior Center at (231) 723-6477.

This year, Manistee’s FiveCAP Inc. will also offer tax preparation and e-filing services to low-income residents of Mason, Manistee, Lake and Newaygo counties.

The services are offered Monday through Friday, however appointments are required by calling (231) 723-8327. Residents can also stop by the Manistee County Office located at 265 First St. in Manistee.

Those interested are requested to be prepared by providing the following documents at the time of their tax preparation appointment:

  • Any W-2 and/or 1099 forms;
  • Year-end statement for those who receive Social Security benefits;
  • Year-end and quarterly statements for those who receive SSI benefits;
  • Family Independence statements from the Department of Human Services;
  • Child support statements;
  • Unemployment benefit statements;
  • Any other statements for income received in 2017;
  • Heating costs from Nov. 1, 2016 to Oct. 30, 2017;
  • Property tax statements (both summer and winter) with State Equalized Value; and
  • Birthdays and Social Security numbers for themselves and any dependents.

For residents who live in the Benzie County area, the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency also offers help — to low to moderate income individuals and families — preparing taxes for free at locations in Traverse City, and at satellite locations in several of the counties NMCAA services.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is supported by the IRS, which helps fund it.

Frank Goodroe, income tax coordinator for NMCAA, said Benzie County residents would have their taxes filed by NMCAA volunteers at Benzie Senior Resources. The program runs at Benzie Senior Resources from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays.

“All the volunteers are certified,” Goodroe said. “We have about 30 volunteers that support the program throughout the region. In Benzie, there are about four volunteers.”

To make an appointment, contact the Traverse City NMCAA office at (231)947-3780 or the Cadillac office at (231) 775-9781. An appointment can also be made by contacting Benzie Senior Resources at (231) 525-0600.

More information on NMCAA can be found at nmcaa.net.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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