Filing taxes can be complicated and intimidating, which is why so many Americans use tax preparation services. However, those services can be costly and take a large percentage of a tax return or put an even greater burden on the amount of money owed. To help low-income individuals properly file their taxes, Newark-based New Community’s Family Resource Success Center offers free tax preparation services for those who qualify through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which has operated for more than 50 years and is conducted nationally.
Qualifying individuals are able to make an appointment through the Family Resource Success Center to drop off their documents for the certified IRS tax preparers to work on the returns. Once completed, the clients are given a time to pick up their documents and the tax preparer explains why the client is receiving money back or owes money to the government.
Harlina Tucker receives disability, has difficulty using her hands because of carpal tunnel syndrome and says she isn’t very internet savvy. As a resident of New Community Associates, 180 South Orange Ave., Newark, she learned about the free tax prep service from her Resident Services Coordinator.
“I didn’t even know that I could do taxes,” Tucker said. “This is the first time since I’ve been on disability that I’ve been able to do taxes. So it is very informative. And she told me a few other things that I probably can do so I can pay taxes in the future.”
Patrick Taylor has used the free tax prep service at New Community for two years.
“The service is very good. I recommend people to come here because they’re quick, they’re pleasant and they’re very professional. They do a great job,” he said. “They tell you if you owe or not and if you do owe, what to do. They explain it. They’re very patient with people.”
Sam Gaddy has been getting his taxes done at New Community for five years.
“They’re very accurate. I’m always satisfied when they do my taxes,” he said. “If there are any discrepancies, they go far and beyond just to help you out.”
VITA Tax Preparer Yolanda Aguilera is from Newark and explained that the service is meant to help low-income residents properly file their tax returns without having to pay large amounts.
“Some of the paid preparing companies, they’re taking 20 percent to a third of their returns a lot of times. And these people just can’t afford it,” she said. “I think this is just a perfect way to help them financially. Financial literacy and education are super important, especially in these low-income and disenfranchised areas and so VITA represents a future and creating generational wealth and understanding amongst Black and Brown people.”
New Community began offering free tax preparation nearly 20 years ago in partnership with Paradise Baptist Church in Newark with Bishop Jethro James.
Family Resource Center Director Joann Williams-Swiney said tax prep clients also fill out an intake form to determine if they can take advantage of other services.
“We’re not only providing the very valuable tax service to residents but also making sure that they’re connected to other services that they may need that they may not know we provide,” she said. “It’s important to us not to just cover the basic tax return but to cover whatever else they may need in order to move forward and be successful financially.”
The center has many services and referrals available, including financial literacy, benefit screenings, SNAP (food stamps), energy and water assistance, lead abatement, homelessness assistance and prevention, rental assistance, substance abuse services, health care, prescription drug programs, prenatal programs and advocacy, among many others.
Volunteers are an important part of the free tax prep services. Williams-Swiney said without them, the program would not be possible. This year Ronald Johnson, Adela Miller and former New Community employee Tyrone Green are volunteering.
“We thank them for their service,” Williams-Swiney said.
In the first month of offering free tax preparation services, the Family Resource Success Center saw 106 clients. The service will be available until the tax deadline, which is April 18.
The free tax preparation is offered by appointment only Tuesdays and Thursdays for drop off and Fridays for pick up from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Individuals can call the Family Resource Success Center at 973-565-9500 to make an appointment. The center is located at 274 South Orange Ave., Newark.
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