Trained volunteers help households file income taxes

Friday, February 5, 2010
United Way of Southeast Missouri's director of community impact, John Drake McGowan, prepares the taxes of NARS employee Tracey Scott on Thursday in the NARS cafeteria. United Way volunteers are working different shifts throughout the week to coincide with the various schedules of NARS employees. (LAURA SIMON)

The United Way of Southeast Missouri is coordinating an effort that provides free income tax help in Cape Girardeau for qualifying individuals.

Since late January, Internal Revenue Service-trained and certified volunteers have completed about 30 tax returns for households whose adjusted gross income is $50,000 or less. That's about 20 more than in 2009, the first year the United Way offered the service, according to John McGowan, community impact director for the United Way.

McGowan believes volunteers will help many more file before the April 15 deadline.

"We got the word out earlier this year and changed locations," McGowan said. "There's a lot of money out there that can be unclaimed if people don't get the proper tax help needed."

During the 2009 tax return season, the United Way set up shop in the Salvation Army headquarters and operated on days AARP was not offering tax help to seniors. Because of the poor response, this year the United Way opted to offer the service inside the Marquette Building and the Family Resource Center.

Its partners include MERS Goodwill and Beta Alpha Psi, a student accounting organization from Southeast Missouri State University.

Becoming a volunteer requires 20 hours of training and scoring at least 80 percent on a test. McGowan said more than half of his volunteers failed on their first attempt, and some on their second attempt in 2009, which then prevents them from volunteering that year. Only two attempts can be made per volunteer per year.

Five of its nine volunteers are from Beta Alpha Psi, an impressive number considering the level of difficulty of the test to become IRS-certified, McGowan said.

"The students and the other volunteers have done a great job," McGowan said. "It's tough relying on volunteers because many of them are already busy enough, but we're excited that they've given up their free time to help out."

The days and times vary each week, so McGowan encourages qualifying households to call 334-4357 to register for an appointment. While the service is open to residents from both Missouri and Illinois, McGowan said Illinois state returns cannot be filed at the locations.

Among the items required for volunteers to help with tax assistance include the 2008 tax return, W-2s from 2008, proof of child care expenses, property tax bills and picture identification. A complete list, along with other sites offering free tax help, can be found at extension.missouri.edu/hes/taxed/sites/default.aspx.

For more information about the free service, call 334-9634 or e-mail john.mcgowan@unitedwayofsemo.org.

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Upcoming free tax help

AARP tax aide will be available at the following times and locations:

* Salvation Army: 9 a.m. to noon Monday, Feb. 22, March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and April 5

* Cape Girardeau Public Library: 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and April 5

* Cape Girardeau Senior Center: 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Thursday, Feb. 17, 18, 24, 25, March 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 31, April 1, 7 and 8

United Way tax help will be available at the following times and locations:

* Family Resource Center: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

* Marquette Building: noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Assistance for NARS employees only will be available from 1 to 6 p.m. Monday at NARS.

Pertinent addresses:

2102 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

338 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

1202 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

430 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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