Choosing preparer is taxing decision

Ginger McCollum of Clifton looks over the intake form she just completed to receive help filling out her income tax forms from one of the 40 volunteers with Grand Junction Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.


locations where TAX HELP is AVAILABLE

The Grand Junction VITA sites are:

■ US Bank, 422 White Ave., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

■ Wells Fargo Bank, 2808 North Ave., 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

■ Alpine Bank, 125 North Park Square, Fruita, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays.

AARP Foundation sites are:

■ AARP Delta Hanson House, 247 Meeker St., Delta, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

■ AARP Cedaredge Community Center, 140 NW Second St., Cedaredge, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Wednesdays.

■ AARP Montrose Pavilion Center, 1800 Pavilion Drive, Montrose, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

■ AARP High Country RSVP, 1402 Blake Ave., Glenwood Springs, by appointment only. Call (970) 384-8740 to schedule.

Deciding whom to trust financial records with at tax time is an important decision that depends on more than which consultant employs the most eye-catching sign-twirler.

Taxpayers are responsible for the accuracy of all entries made on their tax returns, which include related schedules, forms and supporting documentation, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“This remains true whether the return is prepared by the taxpayer or by a return preparer,” the IRS said.

When choosing a preparer, the IRS recommends taxpayers avoid those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

Preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund should also be avoided, the IRS said.

A reputable tax professional should sign and enter his or her preparer tax identification number on the return and provide a copy of the return for the taxpayer’s records.

Getting a referral also makes sense.

“Ask questions. Do you know anyone who has used the tax professional? Were they satisfied with the service they received?” the IRS said.

There are more than 200 offices in Grand Junction where taxpayers can go to receive help with their tax returns, a search of city telephone directories revealed.

Some Grand Junction offices are parts of nationwide networks of service providers. Many more are homegrown and headquartered locally.

Some firms work only on tax returns. Others offer a range of accounting services, tax preparation being just one.

All charge varying fees based on the service provided, the experience of the preparer and the amount the local market for tax preparers will bear.

The fee a preparer charges is just one of several factors to consider, but there is one Grand Junction nonprofit organization with a long track record and thousands of return clients that works at no cost.

Though no longer affiliated with AARP, the same group that volunteered with AARP for the past several years is continuing to provide free expert assistance to eligible taxpayers with incomes of $51,600 or less, said Marie Walz, program coordinator.

Dedicated, knowledgeable and certified, volunteer tax preparers with the Grand Junction VITA Tax Aide Program are now in place at three locations to help thousands of Grand Valley residents file their 2013 tax returns, Walz said.

More than 4,600 taxpayers benefited from the group’s free services last year and just as many, perhaps more, are expected to seek them out this year, Walz said.

Walz, who is a certified public accountant, estimated her group helped taxpayers hold onto $1 million of their own money last year, not counting refunds.

“I believe in this service,” Walz said. “We live in a beautiful community ... we have a lot of elderly. We have a lot of single mothers, single fathers. It’s important to me and our volunteers to be able to help these people.”

Volunteers dedicate hundreds of hours to the program, which lasts through April 15. Before the tax season starts, all VITA volunteers spend a week in class to learn about changes in the tax laws that could affect their clients and two more weeks practicing on sample returns to demonstrate their understanding, she said.

“They work until they know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Walz said.

All volunteers receive quality control reviews of their work to ensure returns are prepared properly and use accurate information, Walz said.

“The highest rate of errors is in the transposing of the employer identification numbers,” she said. “We check for EIN. We check for the amount of money you actually made ... against the W2, because that’s the gospel.”

Phyllis Warner, a volunteer for the past 12 years, gets involved when a return is kicked back for an incorrect number or some other problem.

A troubleshooter, Warner said her job is to find the problem in a return and fix it. She is also involved with electronic filing of returns, which speeds up refund checks, she said.

When not otherwise engaged, Warner likes to step in to care for the children of single mothers who come for services with their kids in tow.

“I can walk the hall or whatever it takes,” Warner said. “I enjoy helping people.”

Helping folks was the most cited reason volunteers gave for doing the work.

“It’s fun,” said Bill Samuel, a volunteer for 16 years. “I like helping people. They come in. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do. And after you get done, they feel they like they came to somebody who did know what to do, so they go away happy.”

Volunteers with AARP Foundation are offering free tax preparation services in other Western Slope communities.


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