FARMINGTON — Western Maine CA$H Coalition kicked off its ninth year of helping local families with tax preparation Friday with a gathering at Bangor Savings Bank.

“We’re growing and building,” Lisa Laflin, coalition member and executive director of the United Way of the Tri Valley Area, said.

Last year community volunteers, including University of Maine at Farmington students, were IRS-trained to help with tax preparation. A total of 205 returns were completed bringing $300,000 in tax refunds back to Franklin County.

“I have found the volunteers knowledgeable and reliable. I have also found them to be reassuring in their knowledge of the tax laws and helping my husband and I get the maximum amount of refund allowed to us,” program participant Marie Hinckley, said of her experience seeking tax help over the past four years.

The Western Maine CA$H Coalition is one of eight community-based programs statewide that provides “free tax preparation and asset-building services to low-income workers and their families,” according to program materials.

The local Coalition, made up both nonprofit and for-profit partners, provides the free tax services to people and families earning less than $50,000 a year. Year-round their work includes financial education, promotion of the earned income tax credit and teaching people ways to build their assets.

On the first night of tax preparation appointments Thursday in Roberts Learning Center at the University of Maine at Farmington, volunteers conducted a dozen appointments, Becky Davis-Allen of Bangor Savings Bank said. The high response on the first night may be indicative of the numbers that will be helped this year, she said.

Appointments are available Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through March 26.

One of the greatest tools for correcting poverty is the earned income tax credit that is underused, Tess Armstrong of the Internal Revenue Service explained to those gathered. Four out of five credit-eligible people file for the credit that was created in 1975. Credits of up to $5,666 can be available for families with three children, based on income, marital status and number of children.

For those eligible, it’s not too late. Taxpayers can apply for the EITC retroactively if it hasn’t been claimed in the past three years, she said.

“This is a great opportunity to receive what they’ve paid in,” state Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said.

For more information or to make an appointment for help with tax preparation, call 778-7954.

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