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Free tax help available but volunteers needed

Tax season gets underway this week with the Internal Revenue Service starting to process returns.

But for some, the thought of spending hundreds of dollars to file their tax returns is a burden.

It can cost up to $600 to file a simple return, said Millie Rounsville, director of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency. She said that was part of the reason the agency got involved in the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program several years ago.

For people with low- to moderate-incomes, the cost can be prohibitive. However, NWCSA's VITA program and AARP's Tax-Aide programs can help.

Trained volunteers with both programs can help people at no cost and tax returns are filed electronically.

Currently, the VITA program needs more volunteers, Rounsville said. The agency, which operates VITA sites in Ashland and Superior, only has enough volunteers to operate two days a week, she said. Some volunteers from past years have retired or college students who pitched in have gotten jobs, she said.

All the training is provided, and if someone wants to lend a hand, they can just stop in the agency at 1118 Tower Ave., or call (715) 392-5127, and Rounsville said they will set people up for the training, which is done online.

"You don't have to be an accountant ... and it's not a 40-hour commitment," Rounsville said. If all a volunteer has to spare is an afternoon, that helps, too, she said.

In most cases, she said, they are relatively simple returns because the program isn't available to businesses or people who earn more than $54,000 a year.

People who are fairly confident in their ability to handle their own taxes, but simply don't have access to computers, printers or the internet have a couple of options with NWCSA. They can use computers available at the agency to e-file their returns on their own, or they can fill them out there and get help from a tax volunteer if they have questions.

There is also a link on the agency's website, nwcsa.org, that will allow people who qualify to e-file their taxes for free.

Rounsville said while people can often file their federal taxes for free, state returns often have a cost.

NWCSA handles tax returns for the IRS, and the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Anyone seeking help with their taxes will need to bring all W-2 forms, 1099s, property tax bills or rental certificates, last year's tax returns, a social security card and photo identification, irrespective of whether they use AARP or NWCSA. For people seeking the Homestead Credit in Wisconsin, new rules also require individuals with disabilities to submit their disability letter to the Department of Revenue.

AARP provides tax help in Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix and Washburn counties.

This year AARP, which has traditionally provided tax help at the Superior Public Library, is setting up in a new location this year because of construction at the library.

People can stop into the Salvation Army, 916 Hughitt Ave., in the community center to sign up for an appointment and get help — there is no telephone number to call this year. AARP Tax-Aide is offered noon to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday from Feb. 1 to April 9. Sign up begins at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Rounsville said NWCSA currently has 143 people waiting to make an appointment, but doesn't plan to start filing returns until the week after the IRS starts accepting returns, because in the past, it has taken that long to work the bugs out.