Western Maine CA$H Coalition begins free tax preparation season

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FARMINGTON — After recently helping a local family realize a tax-refund of just over $300, retired banker Ken Lust realized how much that amount would mean to the family.

Lust is now an IRS certified volunteer for the Western Maine CA$H (creating assets,savings and hope) Coalition and is ready to help working families and individuals with free, confidential tax preparation.

“It truly is free. There are no catches,” he said Friday during a kick-off gathering held at Bangor Savings for the coalition’s 11th annual season of tax preparation.

Preparing materials to file taxes can be a daunting experience, he explained of his interest in helping.

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After taking classes and IRS testing, he’s one of the trained preparers.

Appointments are offered through March 23 in Roberts Learning Center at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Over the past 10 years, 1,500 tax returns have been prepared for working families and individuals earning less than $51,000 a year, Janet Smith of Women, Work and Community told the gathering. Those returns brought refunds of $2.5 million to Franklin County and the Western Maine area, and saved $300,000 in tax preparation fees.

Last year, the program completed 200 returns and brought $250,000 in federal refunds to families and individuals.

“The goal this year is to do 250 returns,” she said.

Some people do not realize they may be eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit, Tess Armstrong with the Internal Revenue Service, said.

According to the IRS, only 79 percent take advantage of the credit.

“It’s a refundable credit, even if they may not have paid in that much,” said Becky Allen-Davis of Bangor Savings, a member and supporter of the coalition.

The credit can help families living in poverty, Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said at the gathering. It can change lives, especially for children, he added.

Along with tax preparation, the coalition also works to help individuals increase their financial knowledge so they can gain long-term financial security.

The coalition provides programs that help people manage their budget and save for their goals, making the most of the money they earn.

They encourage using a portion of a tax refund to open a Family Development Account at a local bank. Every dollar contributed to the account is matched with at least $4. Participation is based on income guidelines.

The coalition also sponsors a Stretch-A-Dollar Day. It’s planned from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 6 at Mt. Blue Middle School. Workshops include extreme couponing, budgeting, energy conservation, credit repair, eating well for less and saving for an education.

Tax preparation includes volunteers such as Linda Hardy and Diane Schubarth who have greeted participants during the Thursday evening and Saturday appointments over the past five years, they said at the gathering.

“It’s a well-done tax return,” Dennis Oneil, tax-site coordinator said of the work done by the volunteers. “Give us a try. There’s nothing to lose.”

To make an appointment with Western Maine CA$H Coalition, which serves greater Franklin County, call 491-4259.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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