HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The Optimist Recreation center at Huntsville's Optimist Park was a bustle of activity Tuesday as people were taking advantage of a unique service in its sixth year of operation.
Tax time is upon us once again. You’ve probably even started to get a few tax forms in the mail. Before you file your taxes, think about saving the money you’ll get back — because it could pay off even more this year.
WHNT News 19 is proud to partner with the United Way of Madison County and Impact Alabama as they again sponsor the SaveFirst initiative. The project, in connection with UAHuntsville, provides free tax preparation services for local working families.
"It almost sounds too good to be true because it is free and we are trying to do them really fast but accurately," says AmeriCorps member and Impact Alabama volunteer Kelsey Hobbs.
The goal is to get people in and out in as little as 45 minutes. Student volunteers from the University of Alabama Huntsville School of business use premium online software to help ensure accuracy when preparing returns.
After booking an appointment, clients simply fill out a couple forms and then wait to be helped by volunteers.
"Taxes are really kind of daunting, they make you scared," admits tax client Ruthann Harrington. "Because you don't know what you're doing but this really helped to be able to come in and have this done and have nice young people talk to you and help you get through it."
Kelsey Hobbs says building the rapport and trust is a huge part of the process.
"To really build a relationship with someone over the 45 minutes of doing their return and just kind of seeing their life, stepping into their shoes and kind of see where they're coming from."
Ruthann Harrington says she would recommend the service to anyone who qualifies.
"Be sure you come here because this is just great."
SaveFirst trains college, graduate, and law students to provide free tax preparation services and opportunities for savings and economic improvement to low-income, working families — especially targeting those eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit refund (EITC).
“This is an opportunity for them to do 2 things: one is to learn. It’s the best possible tax experience short of working in the industry, and then 2, they’re giving back to the community,” says tax lawyer and UAHuntsville Business Professor Charles Hickman.
Families who made less than $52,000 last year with kids in the home or $20,000 without kids in the home qualify for this free service.
“There’s just no reason, especially for relatively simple returns, for anyone making less than $52,000 to go pay a commercial preparer what now averages over $300 an hour for something that we can do at a really high level for free to be supportive of working families.”
-Huntsville: Optimist Recreation Center, 703 Oakwood Ave NE
-Huntsville: United Way of Madison County: 701 Andrew Jackson Way NE
-Decatur: Turner-Surles Community Center, 702 Sycamore St SW
-Florence: Weeden Elementary School, 400 Baldwin St
The primary campaign is January 20 through March 8, although the United Way will continue providing services at its office through April 15.
This is the eighth year for Impact Alabama’s SaveFirst initiative. During 2013, SaveFirst served 1,357 families in Huntsville, Decatur, and Florence, helping them to claim $2.9 million in refunds and save $400,000 in commercial fees. This represents a 32% increase in families served compared to the prior year.
If you meet the income criteria and would like to schedule a free tax preparation appointment, call 1-888-99-TAX-AL.