Some 35 members of the Western Maryland College community, including 31 students, have volunteered to work in a free tax preparation program beginning next month for people who cannot obtain professional assistance in filing their tax returns.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, administered by the Internal Revenue Service, trains volunteers to help prepare tax returns for elderly, handicapped and non-English-speaking taxpayers.
This year is the first time that Western Maryland has participated in the program. Four other colleges and universities in Maryland are involved in VITA this year.
The free program will begin operating Feb. 10 in Decker College Center's Gold Room B and continue through April 14.
Susan M. Milstein, a Western Maryland associate professor of economics and business administration, VITA offers taxpayers a chance to learn more about how taxes work while training students to provide reliable tax assistance.
Ms. Milstein's interest in VITA started as an idea for a spring sabbatical that at first appeared daunting. "I wanted to do something on my sabbatical that would benefit someone other than me," Ms. Milstein said.
"Besides being a teacher, I'm also a CPA and I'm involved in a local tax practice. About a year ago I decided it would be great if I could create a tax service that would help people at the college and the surrounding community, people who couldn't necessarily afford such a service."
She called the Internal Revenue Service for advice and learned about the VITA program.
Now, armed with calculators donated by a Western Maryland parent, and forms, teaching manuals and instructors provided by the IRS, Ms. Milstein has scheduled a representative from the state comptroller's office to offer volunteer training for Maryland's various tax forms.
Western Maryland's VITA volunteers will receive four days of training in late January for assisting in tax return preparation. The volunteers' efforts will result in college credit. After training, volunteers will teach taxpayers how to complete their own Forms 1040EZ, 1040A, 1040, W-4 and Maryland forms in self-help sessions. They also will be involved in scheduling their hours and advertising for this free service.
Ms. Milstein will be check finished returns for accuracy.
According to the IRS, VITA's goal is to teach taxpayers to complete their own returns. But those who are unable to participate in self-help assistance will be offered preparation of their return by the volunteers.
The volunteers will refer taxpayers who have complicated questions or returns to IRS publications or to professional assistance.
Information: Susan Milstein, 410-857-2456.
Tax office hours
Maryland income tax offices will offer extra hours of free taxpayer assistance during certain weekends and all state holidays through April 15.
Taxpayers can get their Maryland income tax returns completed free of charge if they bring a completed copy of their federal returns and all W-2 statements with them.
Assistance also is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The Carroll County office is at 12 Westminster Shopping Center, Route 140 and Englar Road; phone, 848-4699.
Weekend and holiday hours are as follows:
* Saturday, Feb. 6 -- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
* Friday, Feb. 12, Lincoln's birthday -- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Saturday, Feb. 13 -- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
L * Monday, Feb. 15, Washington's birthday -- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Thursday, March 25, Maryland Day -- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Saturday, April 3 -- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
* Monday, April 5, telephone assistance only -- 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
* Friday, April 9, Good Friday -- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Saturday, April 10 -- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
* Monday, April 12, telephone assistance only -- 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
MA * Thursday, April 15, deadline for filing -- 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.