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Students Help Residents File Taxes

April 11, 2006

Evanston’s National Student Partnerships (NSP) office, located at 1615 Oak Ave., once again offered income tax assistance to qualified Evanston residents this year.

Americorps VISTA/site coordinator Lia Silver and Northwestern senior Sohil Shah trained with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) before preparing 50 volunteers, primarily Northwestern students, through an online program.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helped low-income individuals, generally single adults who live alone and make less than $18,000, or married couples with a combined income of less than $35,000.

Residents met with volunteers to fill out tax forms using an electronic filing service. Unlike NSP’s other services, the tax filing was arranged by appointment so volunteers could make sure residents brought all the necessary identification information and public benefit forms.

According to Shah, one of the advantages of filing with NSP is the volunteers' knowledge of the earned income tax credit. According to the IRS, the refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families was created in 1975 in part to offset the burden of Social Security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. When the credit exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for the credit. To qualify, taxpayers must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if they did not earn enough money to be obligated to file a tax return.

“Many people don’t even know about the credit," Shah said. "At volunteer assistance sites, one of our primary duties is to make people aware of it so they can benefit."

Shah and the NSP volunteers also discussed with clients some basic financial strategies. Since tax refunds are received as a lump sum, they talked about budget processes and encouraged individuals to open checking accounts to manage the funds.

The NSP provided tax assistance to 110 Evanston residents in 2005, and they hope to surpass that mark by the time the 2006 tax season passes.

The NSP office is open throughout the year to help low-income residents write resumes and find jobs or emergency housing. Through its specialized intake process, the office evaluates clients' needs to determine whether they should be referred to other agencies for legal aid and healthcare or transportation subsidies. It also helps residents fill out applications for food stamps and other public benefits.