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Tax help nets big bucks

Tax help nets big bucks

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BLOOMINGTON — A free tax preparation program netted $1 million in tax refunds for Twin City residents this year, but not all eligible taxpayers took advantage of it.

The 1,162 low-income residents in Bloomington-Normal who used the service received an average refund of $860, including both state and federal returns, the Chicago-based Center for Economic Progress said Wednesday. The agency oversees the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program throughout the state.

“There are actually more people we could be assisting,” said Luke Wellman, volunteer coordinator for the VITA program in the Twin Cities.

Single- or multi-income families earning up to $50,000 annually can receive assistance through the annual program, Wellman said. Single taxpayers earning up to $30,000 a year are also eligible. Those income restrictions in Bloomington-Normal are more relaxed than the rest of the state, Wellman said, because the average household income is higher here.

About 50 to 100 more people used the free service this year, said Wellman, who hopes more turn out next year.

“We’re always looking for new ways to help more people. I’m already planning for next year,” he said.

This year, Wellman and his band of 45 volunteers offered the service at four locations in Bloomington-Normal at varying hours of the day and evening.

To accommodate more people, Wellman is trying to recruit more volunteers to offer the service at more times and places.

According to the Center for Economic Progress, the $1 million in refunds is a 10 percent increase from 2005 totals.

“Bringing more than $1 million in tax refunds to Bloomington-Normal families is an accomplishment we’re very proud of,” said David Marzahl, executive director of the agency.

“We had a great group of 46 volunteers who helped families claim all the tax refunds owed to them without having to incur any additional costs or fees.”

The program generated nearly $37 million in federal and state tax refunds throughout the state, Marzahl said.

The VITA program has been around for more than two decades, Wellman said.

Volunteers like Wellman, an employee at State Farm Insurance Cos., make the program feasible. While people from all walks of life volunteer, many are also accounting or finance majors at Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities.

Free assistance runs from the end of January until the tax deadline, Wellman said. Locations and hours for next year haven’t been determined.

Volunteer assistance

The program is offered annually throughout the state by the non-profit Center for Economic Progress in Chicago. Volunteers administer the program locally.

Single- or multi-income families earning no more than $50,000 annually can receive free tax assistance through the annual program. Single taxpayers earning up to $30,000 a year are also eligible.

About 1,162 Twin City residents used the program this year, receiving $1 million in federal and state tax refunds. The average return was $860.

Statewide, the program generated $37 million in refunds.

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