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Volunteers help filers get back more than $1 million

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

More than $1 million is going back into the bank accounts of 609 Denton County families after United Way volunteers helped them complete their federal tax returns this spring.

This is the second consecutive year that the United Way of Denton County’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program has helped return more than $1 million to low and moderately low income individuals and families. The program has been operating for seven years.

This year’s volunteers served about 3 percent more families than last year, but they also prepared more complicated returns, according to John Montoya, who was recently hired by the United Way of Denton County to help with the program.

Many of the program’s clients have income reported through a Form 1099 for miscellaneous income, rather than a W-2 wage and tax statement, Montoya said. That means the individual could be subject to self-employment tax, something that people don’t always understand and prepare for, Montoya said, particularly since that income reporting status is determined by their employer.

However, local volunteers helped clients complete the Schedule C, profit or loss from business, along with their regular return so that they could claim work-related expenses, such as mileage and uniforms, to make sure they are paying the correct amount of income tax.

“And we do a lot of educating on what they should be recording for next year,” Montoya said.

Many clients return each year for the help, Montoya said.

This year, the agency’s program operated four tax preparation sites at Denton Public Library’s North Branch, Sanger Public Library, Little Elm Independent School District and the Lake Cities Public Library.

They began the last week of January and operated the four sites for 184 hours, Montoya said.

If they ran out of time on a Saturday to help the people who came, they tried to schedule appointments during the week with United Way interns who had been trained in the program, he said.

More than half of the $1 million-plus that volunteers helped recover comes from refunds of federal withholding and similar credits.

Another third is earned income tax credit and child tax credit, money that is meant to help low-income families with children even though some paid preparers claim a percentage of those credits in addition to their fees, according to Gary Henderson, the agency’s president and chief executive officer.

Based on what the National Society of Accountants estimates the average Texan pays for preparing a simple tax return — $242 for a Form 1040 and itemized deductions — the volunteers saved Denton County households another $147,378 by preparing the returns for free.

Right now, the program is running about at capacity, Henderson said. A total of 38 volunteers spent 730 hours getting both certified with the IRS and preparing returns.

With the agency’s move to a new building and additional computers, the program could serve more people with more volunteers.

You don’t have to be an accountant to help — just a passion to help people, he said.

“It takes a lot of time,” Montoya said. “But the reward is so huge. You can help in a way that is so beneficial.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.