Neighborhood Tax Centers offering free services

March 19, 2012 3:08:07 PM PDT
We are less than a month away from the 2012 tax deadline and the clock is ticking if you have not filed. But we are helping you get the help you need. And if you qualify, it's free.

The group is called Neighborhood Tax Centers, and half of Houstonians qualify for this program. The process to file taxes is simple and it's saving families at least $200.

It's Andrew Hernandez's first trip to the Neighborhood Tax Centers of Houston. He was referred by the IRS about the free service.

"Most places you have to pay $100, $200," Hernandez said.

"You don't have to pay an extreme amount of money to actually know that everything's in order for you and to be in alignment," taxpayer Kira Laws said.

"We provide free tax preparation for families and individuals," said Elizabeth Colvin with the Neighborhood Tax Centers of Houston.

Colvin says the organization has 15 locations all over the greater Houston area and is serviced by IRS-certified volunteers.

"Our volunteers who take three tests to be able to volunteer for our program and prepare taxes," she said.

But you have to qualify. Free tax preparation services are available to families who make up to $70,000 a year and single individuals who make up to $40,000 a year. Colvin says that means 50 percent of Houstonians qualify to receive free tax help.

"Our service is truly free. At Neighborhood Tax Centers you will not be charged for any of our services; it's free tax preparation, free direct deposit, free electronic filing. We have a free saving account that you can open to get your refund the fastest," she said.

No appointment is necessary but you need to bring in Social Security cards for each family member, photo IDs, and W-2 and 1099 forms for all jobs worked, as well as any Social Security, unemployment or retirement documentation.

"Some people are very happy to have this place because it helps us financially because I don't have to pay taxes to do the taxes anywhere," taxpayer Jose Coto said.

Colvin also warns for those regardless of whether you qualify for the free services, be careful choosing a tax preparer. Volunteers spend a lot of time correcting mistakes someone else made.

"It's very important in choosing who does your taxes to make sure they understand the tax law and it's done correctly; just relying on the software is really not a smart idea," Colvin said.

Experts say watch out for the bait and switch. Very few people will qualify for free tax help. What is advertised as free is usually a free estimate so you still have to pay.