By Kevin Hong
As tax season approaches, many people find filing taxes to be a complicated process. To try to help with this confusion, Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) is providing free tax help throughout the state, including at Drake Community Library in Grinnell.
Starting last week and continuing into March, persons falling under a certain income level can schedule appointments to go over their taxes with someone who has received tax training. People come in with their income statement and other materials, and volunteers help them to calculate and file their taxes.
Virginia Andersen ’10, who works for MICA, is one of the organizers of this program.
“We help people under a certain income level, probably $24,000 a year,” explained Andersen.
Currently, many people do not know how to do their taxes and are afraid to consult for professional help, partly because of the cost. Volunteers share their knowledge and expertise with individuals who otherwise would probably not be able to afford someone to help them navigate the intricacies of tax forms.
Several Grinnell students volunteer with MICA, including Yelena Varley ’14, who got involved with the tax program this year.
“I think it’s important [to help people with low incomes]—sometimes they are exploited,” Varley said.
Hanna Feldman ’14, another volunteer, explained that the program helps clear up common tax misconceptions.
“I think the biggest thing the program does is it helps people file their return who normally don’t know how to, and normally don’t just because they are scared to get charged,” Feldman said. “They don’t realize that they can get the money back from filing taxes. A lot of people think you [always] have to pay taxes, but generally that’s not the case if the income is that low.”
The bureaucracy involved with taxes is complicated for some people. “Hopefully we can help them get some money back that they are qualified for,” Varley added.
“[Our program] is free. All they need to do is to call the Grinnell office in town, schedule an appointment, and then come with all the tax materials. They fill certain income forms out, and once they are done, and the volunteers are ready, they may go and the volunteer will start doing their taxes,” Andersen said.
These tax appointments are supported by MICA, a non-profit organization that runs many programs to aid families and children in poverty. People bring in their income statements, like W-4 and W-2 forms, and volunteers put that into the software.
“A lot of them are not calculated in numbers, because how you calculate how much tax people need to pay is not just a simple imputing income,” Andersen emphasized. “You need to add up all their incomes, but some incomes may not actually be taxable, and they may have adjustment to their income that may reduce their taxes.”
In order to become a volunteer with MICA, interested people must attend meetings and training, leading up to a test.
“It is kind of like learning how to drive,” Feldman said. “You have to do a bunch of software learning stuff, and if you pass the test, you get certified. It’s not easy, but it’s not terribly hard. You can only take the test twice, though.”
The training program has meetings in November and December, and potential volunteers get the material and take the test during winter break.
“If you didn’t get your certification already, it’s kind of too late, but you can wait till the fall to do it again. And then from February to the end of March, you are helping people to file their returns,” Feldman added.
Students wishing to volunteer with the tax program next fall or with any of MICA’s other programs are welcome to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.