Free tax filing is available

HOUSTON Filing income taxes can be a difficult thing. That's the case for Tarik Chowdhury. We asked him if he thought he could have done this on his own.

"I don't think so," he said with a laugh.

Chowdhury is getting free help with his taxes from Neighborhood Tax Centers. The non-profit agency has already helped more than 10,000 Houston residents file a return this year. Officials here say this year, tax filers may need extra help getting the most from their return.

"There is a home buyer credit. Thereis a new education credits," said Elizabeth Colvin with Neighborhood Tax Centers. "There are a lot of new credits that families can take advantage of."

Families that earn under $50,000 a year can take advantage of the free help and so far, the agency has seen a spike in demand for the service.

"I think in this economy, everyone is looking for a way to save a dollar and using free tax preparation is a way to keep all the money that you have earned," said Colvin.

The Neighborhood Tax Center volunteers have been trained by the IRS and can file the returns electronically. Getting the free tax help is as easy as calling 211.

"It's the best way to find out where there is a tax preparation site closest to where they live, in their neighborhood, and the calls have increased since last year at this time," said Anna Babin with the United Way of Greater Houston. "We are at a 65% increase in calls."

Last year, United Way and Neighborhood tax Centers helped about 16,000 families get more than $21 million in returns. This year, even more is available, but many taxpayers may be unaware of the credits.

"The stimulus legislation brought about a number of tax law changes and enhancements, which has made tax returns much more complicated this year," said Houston CPA Bob Martin.

Call 211 to get the United Way. Operators there can direct you to one of 20 neighborhood tax centers around the city. The tax help is free and available until April 15.

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