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With tax day closing in fast, help is here

Around the city, centers with trained tax volunteers are offering free help to last-minute filers with low and moderate income.

By JANEL STEPHENS
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- With two days left to file tax returns, tax aide volunteers are gearing up for a crowd of last-minute filers.

Wednesday, approximately 40 people filed their tax returns electronically with the assistance from volunteers at the Enoch D. Davis Center. The volunteers are trained by the IRS under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. The program allows volunteers to prepare tax returns on computers and transmit them electronically to the IRS for free.

VITA volunteer Joe Mahon expects his site to file more than 1,000 tax returns, the most ever from the Enoch Davis site, by April 15. Mahon, 76, who has been a VITA volunteer at Enoch Davis since 1990, said the IRS e-file program has attracted more and more people to his site, making it easier and faster for them to file their tax returns. The service is open to low- and moderate-income households.

About two-thirds of the taxpayers that come in for assistance qualify for earned income credit, Mahon said.

"People that come in early are usually people that have big refunds coming in," Mahon said. "The people who are late are people that are either procrastinating or owe money."

Wednesday was the first time Willie and Jackie Coleman received help on their tax return at the center. The couple used to rely on a relative to help them file their tax returns, but when she didn't have the answers that they needed, the Colemans went looking for help.

About 35 minutes later, the couple had finished filing their joint 1040 income tax return and signed papers giving volunteer Sue Riggins permission to file their returns electronically.

"It was such a help," said Willie Coleman, 46. "(Riggins) was telling me things I didn't know. I thought she did a great job for people who can't afford to pay someone to file their tax return for them."

At the James B. Sanderlin Family Center, VITA volunteers have helped 169 people file their tax returns. This is the first year the center has provided tax aid services.

"I think it's wonderful. We can't wait to do this next year," said Lounell Britt, executive director of the center.

The tax assistance at Sanderlin is part of a wealth building initiative to encourage people who qualify for earned income credit to save and invest their money.

Free tax assistance will be available through Tuesday at:

-- Florida Blood Services, 10100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, St. Petersburg; Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

-- Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Avenue S, St. Petersburg; Monday and Tuesday, noon to 3:30 p.m.

-- James B. Sanderlin Center, 2335 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

-- WorkNet St. Petersburg One-Stop, 3251 Third Ave. N, St. Petersburg; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

To find a tax assistance site near you, visit www.aarp.org/fl or call 1-888-227-7669.

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