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Local organizations offer free tax preparation services

Local organizations want to make this income tax season painless and as affordable as possible. 

While many look to this time of the year with a sense of dread and unease, many local agencies offer free income tax preparation with free federal and state electronic filing. Gone are the days of pulling your hair out while you stare at a stack of tax papers. No longer do you need to try to decipher the annual tax code changes. 

Sheryl White, site coordinator for the Great Plains Improvement Foundation, and her team of volunteer income tax assistance preparers are here to help. Her agency focuses on individuals and families who make under $50,000 a year. You just need to make an appointment and take proof of identity and tax documents and you can walk out feeling relieved and perhaps with a little extra money coming to your bank account.

"Last year we filed more than 650 returns and generated $1 million in federal and state refunds," White said. "That makes me feel great because it lets me know we're doing something right and we're helping the community."

The Great Plains Improvement Foundation's VITA program started Jan. 25 and the site has been busy ever since. Many clients will have fairly large refunds but can't afford to pay someone to file their taxes for them. Many don't feel comfortable doing it themselves. That's why the Internal Revenue Service's VITA program is so important, White said. 

"We don't want people to have to spend a large portion of their refunds on getting their taxes done," she said. 

White said word of mouth has been the biggest driving force in getting people in the door. Jeremy Thode and wife Kelsey filed their taxes at GPIF last week and were pleased with the outcome. He said he had visited the site several years ago and was impressed, but didn't come back for a while. When he heard some co-workers talking about it, he decided to go back again. Now, they make sure to schedule an appointment each tax season.

"They do a real good job here," he said. "You don't have to pay, which is a big deal. But they're reliable and they treat you right."

Each tax preparer is a volunteer who undergoes many hours of training before they meet with clients. Jesse Bailey joined the agency's VITA program this year for the first time. He said he wanted to do something different and enjoys being able to help other people. The idea of helping someone receive a sizeable tax refund makes his volunteer hours worthwhile.

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