COVINGTON, Ky. (March 10, 2023) – Yvonne remembers feeling gouged when she paid commercial preparers to do her taxes.
"They charge an outrageous amount," said the Covington resident, who is in her early 60s and works in manufacturing.
A few years ago, she followed a friend's advice and visited one of the Free Tax Prep sites operated by United Way of Greater Cincinnati. "The people were very friendly, and they put my mind at ease," she said. Just as important, using the free service meant she could keep more of her hard-earned dollars.
For tax year 2021, Free Tax Prep volunteers helped individuals and families obtain more than $10.7 million in refunds while saving them nearly $1.8 million in preparation fees.
"It's an awesome program," said Yvonne.
She was among several dozen taxpayers who on a recent Tuesday came to United Way's Free Tax Prep site at the Center for Great Neighborhoods. The mix included young and old, retirees and working people, English and Spanish speakers.
Joan, a retired customer service worker in her 60s, said she has used Free Tax Prep the past 10 years or so and never worries about keeping up with changes to tax rules and regulations. "I let (the volunteers) do it. And they've always done a good job for me."
"I trust them," said Tony, who is in his late 50s and is a repeat customer of Free Tax Prep.
Linda, a retired secretary in her 60s and longtime user of Free Tax Prep, acknowledged her tax returns are relatively simple, "but I want to make sure they're done right. The volunteers are great. They know what they're doing. They go over (returns) twice. Everything about it is positive."
Paul Wiehe likes hearing such comments. He volunteers as the Free Tax Prep site coordinator at the Center for Great Neighborhoods.
"You always wonder what the interaction with the public is going to be," Paul said. "They've been amazing. They've been kind. They've been appreciative. Even when we give them bad news."
This year, many taxpayers are receiving smaller refunds because pandemic relief measures have expired. "We take the time to explain the differences between this year and last year," Paul said.
At the Center for Great Neighborhoods, tax preparers are a mix of community volunteers and college students. The latter include law students from Northern Kentucky University and accounting students from Thomas More University who are participating in service learning.
"It's hands-on experience, which is really valuable," said Maria Mitchell, an associate professor at Thomas More. "(The students) do a great job communicating with the taxpayers. It's a win-win."
April 18 is the tax deadline this year, but Free Tax Prep continues to operate past that date to help people who have missed credits they are owed from previous years, such as the Child Tax Credit or federal stimulus payments.
To claim such credits, people can file a prior year tax return (even those who don't typically file) up to three years after the original due date.
For more information, call 211, the United Way Helpline.