Monday, Feb. 9, 2009 | 1:16 p.m.
To get help
To make an appointment or for more information, dial 211 or visit nevada211.org. Henderson sites include College of Southern Nevada, 700 College Drive, and HopeLink Family Resource Center, 178 Westminster Way, which can be reached at 566-0576.
Cindy Oswald entered HopeLink Family Resource Center on Feb. 6 estimating her tax refund at $600. She left, astonished, that she would be receiving $5,200 on her 2008 return.
Oswald, a 51-year-old mother of three children, was like many expected to arrive at the 19 free tax preparation sites throughout the Las Vegas Valley. She did not know about the Earned Income Tax Credit — money her family could have been collecting for years.
For the second year, the United Way, in partnership with other agencies and corporations, has staffed the sites with volunteer IRS-certified tax assistants. To qualify for the free tax help, a person must make less than $41,646 per year.
The program is especially important in light of the country's economic turmoil, United Way of Southern Nevada Chief Executive Dan Goulet said.
"A lot of people don't file because they don't make a lot of money," he said. "Those people are eligible for the EITC."
In addition, many whose incomes previously exceeded the threshold may now qualify after job losses and reduced hours, Goulet said. The large returns can assist people catching up on rent, paying off debt and with savings, he said.
"In many cases a family getting a tax credit is the largest single payment they receive at one time," he said.
Oswald said hers will go toward her children's college tuition. She is also hoping to amend tax returns filed previously.
"Everybody's very helpful here and patient," Oswald said. "I'm grateful for volunteers. Taxes can't be fun."
Oswald had yet to tell the good news to her husband, who has been preparing their taxes for the past 10 years.
"I guess he didn't do such a good job," Oswald said with a grin, as volunteer Kathy Matson began to correct the 2007 return.
Matson, 58, is retired from the IRS. Many of the volunteers have experience as CPAs or have worked for the IRS, Goulet said. A contingent, including some from Clark High School, are specially trained students.
Matson was a regular volunteer at HopeLink before she was approached for her tax expertise.
"This is a really good program for people," she said. "Preparers can cost $60 to $100 or more, and we do it for free."
Already, Goulet said, the program has processed twice as many tax returns as last year over the same time period. In 2008, the program completed 6,000 returns, resulting in $1.2 million in Earned Income Tax Credit, and $5.1 million in additional refunds. Last year's return averaged $1,700, Goulet said, and the average income of those seeking assistance was $19,000.
"The greatest impact is on families living day-to-day," Goulet said.
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or email@example.com.