Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 24, 2013

Tax time!

United Way and VITA volunteers help residents prepare taxes

By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD —  Underwear as a business expense? During tax season, Jeri Elmore, of Princeton,  has seen everything from the standard 1040 IRS form to questionable business expenses like underwear and fast food receipts. While Elmore can’t convince the IRS to accept shoe boxes of hamburger receipts, she can help local residents file their taxes before the IRS’s due date on April 15.

The assistant director of the United Way is currently spending 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, surrounded by various tax forms.

 “Income tax preparation is written in another language,” Elmore said. “Most people have a hard time translating tax words into English. That is what we are here for.”

 The United Way, with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), helps local residents by preparing income taxes for free. Elmore, 38, started volunteering with VITA at Bluefield State College five years ago.

“I am certified by the IRS and took a training course,” she said.

In fact, Elmore took six tests that allow her to teach others how to do taxes, be a site coordination for VITA and of course, prepare taxes. Along with Elmore, 20 other volunteers, along with Execute Director of the United Way Michelle Carter, work with residents on their taxes. The volunteers are senior tax students from Bluefield State College and Concord University.

“They know the tax laws inside and out,” she said.

The hands-on experience helps link the classroom to paper.  Elmore and volunteers help about 20 or more people a day. The number can vary according to the location, Elmore said.

How do volunteers break down tax forms and instructions?

 Michelle Carter said they refrain from using “tax words.”

“We go line-by-line with the client explaining things in plain English. The question we get asked most is about the difference between itemizing and taking the standard deduction. Less than 10 of our clients (out of 700) need to itemize. The sad part is that our clients that itemize do so because they have had more than $10,000 in medical expenses,” Carter said.

Elmore said one Bluefield resident — a 100-year-old woman — is always first in line to get her taxes filed. She is one of the regulars, year after year, who seek assistance.

 Most are there to file standard forms, but a few come in with amendments towards the end of the season. Elmore said a lot of people file early, then receive another interest statement in March.

One reason why VITA is important to this area is the Earned Income Credit (EIC). Elmore said most people qualify for this credit. From students to seniors, the EIC gives basic working people a boost. She said a family of four must make under $47,162 to qualify.

“That covers most people around here,” she said.

There is no requirements for VITA , Elmore said. Anybody can receive help by making an appointment with the United Way. Volunteers are placed at different locations throughout the week.

The United Way began partnering with VITA at BSC in 2008. The program has extended to include Concord University.  Offices with locations include CU, BSC and the United Way office inside First Community Bank building on Federal Street in Bluefield.

To make an appointment, call 276-322-2606. Elmore said to leave a message or call back if the phone is busy.

“When you arrive, bring all paperwork, an ID, social security card and the W2’s. And be sure to ask questions,” Elmore said.