CN volunteers to begin free tax prep Feb. 1

BY JAMI MURPHY
Former Reporter
12/27/2016 01:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – It’s almost 2017, and the new year means tax season. And the Cherokee Nation will once again help individuals within its 14-county jurisdiction with tax preparation through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service.

Cora Lathrop, CN mortgage loan officer and VITA coordinator, said each year the tribe works with the Internal Revenue Service to train volunteers how to provide free, basic, income tax return preparation for low-to-moderate income taxpayers.

She added that the IRS has contracted with a different software company, Taxslayer Pro Online.

“This change means tax preparation will take a little longer for each person as there is no carryover of information,” Lathrop said. “We will rely on persons to bring last year’s tax return as we no longer have any access to previous returns prepared in Taxwise.”

She said the tribe generally offers aid to all people, not just its citizens, who annually make $54,000 or less and need assistance preparing tax returns.

“This is an IRS program. Cherokee Nation partners with IRS to offer free assistance because we want to help community members save the exorbitant fees charged by businesses,” Lathrop said. “Many (businesses) charge between $50 and $400 for simple forms that VITA sites can prepare. This program is designed to help lower-income people save tax preparation fees.”

The tribe’s VITA service is expected run from Feb. 1 to April 13 at 13 locations: Tahlequah, Stilwell, Claremore, Sallisaw, Salina, Westville, Catoosa, Jay, Muskogee, Vinita, Ochelata, Nowata and Pryor.

“VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries and other convenient locations,” Lathrop said.

All locations are by appointment only excluding the Tahlequah location, which takes walk-in filers.

When filing this year, Lathrop said the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare, would play a part in people’s 2016 tax returns.

“You will need to answer if everyone in your household had insurance during 2016. Each individual has to have insurance, adult and child or be eligible for an exemption,” Lathrop said.

She said volunteers not only prepare and file tax returns but they also inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

The 2016 Earned Income Credit depends on several factors. The maximum income with three or more qualifying children is $53,505 with the maximum credit of $6,269.

Lathrop also said tax returns are filed electronically, which allows refunds to be deposited into taxpayers’ accounts within 10 days if using direct deposits.

“The IRS has announced that no one will receive tax refunds before Feb. 15. The IRS is working hard to reduce tax fraud. Some refunds can take up to 21 days while the IRS is double-checking returns. Returns claiming Earned Income Credit and the additional Child Tax Credit will be affected,” she added. “You can use the Where’s My Refund? tool and the IRS2Go phone app to check the status of your refund.”

Sandy Long, who prepared taxes many years at CN, retired from the VITA program in 2016. Any people whom she has helped with tax prep in the past will need to bring the following items because someone new will be preparing their tax returns this year: photo identification; Social Security Cards for you, spouse and dependents; wage and earning statements (form W2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc) from all employers; interest and dividend statements from banks (form 1099); all Forms 1095, Health Insurance Statements (forms 1095A, 1095B, 1095C); copy of previous year tax return; proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit such as blank check; total paid to daycare provider with Tax ID number; and if itemize on Schedule A, statements of expense from charities, mortgage lenders, property tax and medical expenses.

For more information, call 918-453-5536. To find a VITA site anywhere in the United States, call toll free 1-800-906-9887 or visit http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/

What You Need To Bring

Proof of Identification (photo ID)

Social Security Cards for you, spouse and dependents

Wage and earning statements (form W2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc) from all employers

Interest and dividend statements from banks (form 1099)

All Forms 1095, Health Insurance Statements (forms 1095A, 1095B, 1095C)

Copy of previous year tax return

Proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit such as blank check

If Married Filing Jointly, both spouses need to be present

Total paid to Daycare Provider with Tax ID number

If itemize on Schedule A, statements of expense from Charities, Mortgage Lenders, Property Tax, Medical expenses.

VITA Locations and Information

Tahlequah: O-Si-Yo Room, 17695 S. Muskogee Ave., 918-453-5536
Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday by appointment and walk-in

Pryor: Career Services, 2945 Hwy 69A, 918-342-2607
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday

Westville: Westville Public Library, 116 N. Williams
Open for walk-in only from 9 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 21 and 23 and March 7 and 28

Stilwell: Wilma Mankiller Clinic, Hwy 51 East, 918-453-5536
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday

Sallisaw: Housing Authority, 2260 W. Cherokee, 918-774-0770, ext. 221 and 222
Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday (not Feb. 20)

Catoosa: Housing Authority, 310 Chief Stand Watie, 918-342-2607
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday

Claremore: Housing Authority, 23205 S. Highway 66, 918-342-6814 or 918-342-6807
Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday (not April 13)

Jay: Housing Authority, 1300 W. Cherokee Apt. 111, 918-253-4078
Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday

Salina: CN Food Distribution Site, 904 Owen Walters Blvd., 918-207-3939
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday

Muskogee: Three Rivers Health Clinic, 918-316-7697
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday

Vinita: Vinita Health Center, 27371 S. 4410 Road, 918-316-7697
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 and Feb. 28, March 21 and March 28

Ochelata: Cooweescoowee Health Clinic, 39500 W. 2900 Road, 918-316-7697
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 7, March 7 and April 4

Nowata: Will Rogers Health Clinic, 1020 Lenape Drive, 918-316-7697
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, March 14 and April 11

History of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

More than 30 years ago, the Cherokee Nation’s Career Services Learning Center helped CN citizens by preparing simple tax returns. The program has been moved through several departments and is now administered by the Commerce Department’s Mortgage Assistance Program.

The program was originally founded 1971 by Gary Iskowitz at California State University Northridge. The concept was to provide local taxpayers with free tax return preparation by accounting students, in effort to provide both a valuable community service and a powerful hands-on learning experience for the accounting students. The program grew from a small group of dedicated accounting students to what is now a nationwide program that serves thousands of taxpayers and provides a valuable learning experience for accounting students. Iskowitz (now a prominent CPA, and former IRS agent) recently was commended on the 40th anniversary of the program.

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