With everyone tightening their metaphorical financial belts, this year’s tax refund is more important than ever.
The refunds residents get this year probably will not go toward a new Jacuzzi or ski trip but to paying the mortgage or buying groceries for the family.
Dianne Laubert, senior director of communications for United Way of Palm Beach County, said there are extra tax breaks this year residents can take advantage of to increase their refund and stretch its usefulness just a bit longer.
United Way will once again have its VITA program until April 15 with 20 sites, where it provides income tax preparation for free to households earning $49,000 or less.
Forest Park Elementary, 1201 SW Third St., will be the key site in Boynton Beach, running from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Laubert said during the most popular times, upwards of 40 people are at the site getting their taxes done.
“There is a big increase in February once everyone gets their documents and their W-2 forms,” she said.
Vivian Pazmino, VITA Program manager, said there are a few key changes from last year that might have the average return up to $3,000 from last year’s $2,000.
“This year, a parent can claim up to three children instead of last year’s limit of two,” she said.
In addition, school materials can be added to tuition and can be an exemption, as well as a new car purchased after Feb. 17.
The VITA Program also helps tax payers save more than $1 million in tax-preparation fees they would have paid had they used a tax-preparation company.
In all, the VITA Program has had a $113 million impact on the local economy, with taxpayers using their refunds to invest in education or housing.
Last year, more than 9,500 residents used the VITA Program, and received $15 million in refunds.
Before United Way’s involvement began in 2004 in the VITA Program, only 641 residents were using the service, Laubert said.
“Basically, they came to us and said we have $12 million in unclaimed tax credits,” Laubert said.
All returns processed at VITA sites are e-filed so filers can receive their refund money quickly, normally in 10 to 12 days.
To find a VITA site, residents need to call 211, the county’s information and referral line or visit www.unitedwaypbc.org.
* One client, Joann Arroyo, had her taxes done at a VITA site and came out with a new home.
She was told how she could use the Individual Development Account to become a homeowner.
“I put in $2,000 and they matched it 2 to 1, by putting in $4,000,” she said.
Using IDA she had $6,000 to move her and three children into a new home. She also said with VITA, she has never had a problem with the IRS and her refunds come quickly, which she needs.
“I have been using VITA for five years and will continue to use them,” she said. “They help a lot.”
* Lawrence Yablon is once again in charge of organizing the AARP free tax preparation at the Boynton Beach Senior Center, 1021 S. Federal Highway.
The program started Feb. 1 and he said they have seen an average of 16 to 17 people per day so far come in from 9 a.m. to noon Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“This program is marketed to seniors but welcomes all ages and all income levels, even though it is for low to moderate incomes,” he said.
With the AARP tax preparation, the refund usually takes 10 to 14 days to be received and residents need to bring all 2009 documents, in addition to their 2008 tax return.
The program, sponsored by the IRS, saw about 1,000 people walk through the doors and have their taxes done last year.
More than 35 people volunteer on a rotating schedule at the Senior Center to bring this free program to the masses.
For information, call 561-742-6570.