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Low- to moderate-income families can now get their taxes prepared for free through a program sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in collaboration with the Internal Revenue Service.

Recently, UNL volunteers began preparing 2018 state and federal tax returns at eight sites throughout the community as part of the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which runs through April 15.

New this year, all VITA sites in Lincoln are open to taxpayers by appointment only.

“We’ve found that scheduling appointments seems to help the whole program run more smoothly,” said Linda Moody, UNL Center for Civic Engagement. “People aren’t waiting as long as it’s easier to plan your day when you know when to show up. It’s been well-received so far.”

The UNL Center for Civic Engagement leads the Lincoln VITA Coalition with partial funding from the Community Health Endowment Fund. Last year, coalition volunteers prepared more than 2,500 tax returns totaling more than $3 million in tax refunds.

The VITA program helps families avoid fees associated with using a professional tax preparer and allows them to take advantage of all the credits and deductions they have coming, including the Earned Income Tax Credit. Last year, the program helped families get more than $950,000 in EITC alone. Yet every year, around 20 percent of taxpayers who are eligible for the credit don’t take advantage of it.

“Some people just aren’t aware that the credit exists and that they qualify for it,” said Moody. “That’s one of the benefits of sitting down with one of our volunteers. We use tax software that helps ensure an accurate return. That is especially important since this is the first time most people will be impacted by the new tax law.”

The EITC can mean up to $6,431 for a qualifying family with three or more children. Single people and working grandparents caring for children can also qualify. The EITC is one of the federal government’s largest benefit programs for working families and individuals.

UNL runs the only IRS-approved VITA program in Lincoln. Some sites also have multilingual volunteers who can assist people with limited English skills. Taxpayers are reminded that married couples filing jointly must have both spouses present to sign the tax return.

To make an appointment for VITA help, contact https://vita.unl.edu/signup/. Taxpayers wishing to use the Asian Community & Cultural Center should call 402-477-3446 to make an appointment.

To locate the nearest site, go to http://vita.unl.edu. Taxpayers can also call the UNL Center for Civic Engagement at 402-472-6150 to ask questions or schedule an appointment. In addition, taxpayers can learn about site locations by calling 211 in their community, using the online locator tool on IRS.gov, or downloading the free IRS smartphone app IRS2Go.

Before going to a VITA site, taxpayers should review Publication 3676-B for services provided.

VITA sites in the greater Lincoln area include:

• Asian Community & Cultural Center, 144 N. 44th St., Suite A

• Bennett Martin Library, 136 S. 14th St.

• Center for People in Need, 3901 N. 27th St., Unit 1

• Eiseley Library, 1530 Superior St.

• UNL East Union, 33rd and Holdrege streets

• Anderson Library, 3635 Touzalin Ave.

• Community Hope Federal Credit Union, 1625 N St.

• F Street Recreational Center, 1225 F St.

Taxpayers need to present the following items to have their returns prepared:

IDENTIFICATION:

• Social Security cards or ITIN letters for everyone who will be included on the return.

• Photo ID for all tax return signers (BOTH spouses must sign if filing jointly).

INCOME:

• W-2s for wages and W-2Gs for gambling income.

• 1099s for interest, dividends, unemployment, state tax refunds, pension or 401-K distributions and other income.

• Records of revenue from self-employment or home-based businesses.

EXPENSES:

• 1098s for mortgage interest, student loan interest (1098-E) or tuition (1098-T), statement of property tax paid.

• Statement of college student account showing all charges and payments for each student on the return.

• Child care receipts, including tax ID and address for child care provider.

• 1095s showing creditable health insurance coverage.

• Records of expenses for self-employment or home-based businesses.

MISCELLANEOUS:

• Checking or savings account information for direct deposit/direct debit.

• Last year’s tax return (REQUIRED for MyFreeTaxes self-preparation).

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