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Tax code has a few pleasant surprises this year

Seniors, low-income folks get free prep help
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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For filers who qualify, there are some nice additions to the tax code for this year. “One of the newest and greatest is the $7,500 first-time homebuyer credit,” said Tom Brenner, H&R Block Auburn manager. Taxpayers who haven’t owned a home in the past three years are eligible and it is fully refundable. “Even if you had no tax due, they’ll send you $7,500,” Brenner said. The hook is, you have to pay it back over the next 15 years. “You pay it back with your tax return every year at $500 per year,” Brenner explained. “Basically it is a $7,500 loan with no interest.” The mileage rate has gone up, too, as an employee business expense or for those who are self-employed. It is 50.5 cents a mile for the first half of the year and 58.5 cents a mile for the last six months. And eligibility for the child tax credit has been expanded. “They’ve brought income requirements down on that,” Brenner said. “You can make less and still get that $1,000 per child.” Some filers will find they have additional stimulus payment funds coming. Part of the filing process includes checking to see if there is any more available to you, Brenner said. “If you have a situation where things have changed — you picked up a dependent or got married — it is possible you’d get more stimulus money,” he said. The stimulus payments that went out last spring are not considered income and are not being taxed, Brenner said. Senior citizens and those with low-to-moderate incomes have the opportunity to get their taxes done for free at the Multipurpose Senior Center and the Veterans Memorial Hall in Auburn. The program, which has been around about 15 years, served about 1,500 filers last year, according to Phil House, who heads the local volunteer effort. There are approximately 25 counselors who work from Feb. 1 through April 15. “It’s been growing every year,” House said. “Last year, with the stimulus rebate, we ended up with about 200 more than usual.” House, a retired civil engineer for the federal government, has been involved for about eight years. “The majority of us are retired,” he said. “I was looking for something helpful to do when I retired 10 years ago. A friend in Denver was doing the same program there. It seemed like a good, worthwhile thing to do for the community.” Prior to filing season, volunteers take a four-day instruction program provided by Tax Aid. Still, the service is aimed at handling the basics. “We don’t do rentals. We don’t do businesses,” House said. “We try not to get into real complicated tax returns.” The thing House enjoys most is helping the people who really need it. “We see a lot of those,” he said. “A lot of the people we see are widows whose husbands did everything in finances before they passed away. (The widows) have no clue about what’s going on with their taxes, and they’re so thankful there’s someone there to do it for them at no cost.” The tax filing help is available Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the Senior Center and Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Veterans Memorial Hall. “We’re booked into March now,” said Barbara Crowell, director of the senior center. But even with plenty of help available, many choose to do their own taxes. At the Auburn Staples, tax-preparation software is a big seller at this time of the year. “We ran out of it at one point and actually had to order it offline (having it shipped directly to the consumer),” Ken Jones, easy tech representative, said Wednesday. “Turbo Tax seems to be the most popular.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia. com or comment at Auburnjournal.com