The Star-Ledger

Many Taxpayers Won't Have To Pay For Help

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, February 3, 2011

By Sarah Portlock

Many taxpayers won't have to pay for help For taxpayers completely mystified even by the "EZ" IRS tax forms, free help is available.

Residents with questions about their returns can post queries on the website MoneyMattersNJ.com, which is run by the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants.

Low- to moderate-income taxpayers can also qualify for free tax preparation services, and the IRS is partnering with nonprofit and community organizations to provide help for filers who earn less than $49,000 or are 60 and older, said IRS spokesman Gregg Semanick.

One of those organizations is Newark-based New Jersey Citizen Action, which opened its free tax-preparation and benefits center this week. The nonprofit organization has trained more than a dozen staffers to help clients with tax forms and other personal-finance programs.

"In these hard times, it's important that folks don't pay lots to get taxes prepared when they can get it for free," said the organization's executive director, Phyllis Salowe-Kaye.

"Every dollar that is returned to our clients is a dollar that can be spend on food, clothing and shelter," she added. "The second dollar that is returned can be deposited into a bank account and become an investment in the future."

For much of the last two decades, Secaucus-based accountant Carl Specht has offered free filing services for low-income clients — mostly seniors and students, he said — at the Kearny Public Library.

On Saturday afternoons during tax season, Specht and two colleagues meet with taxpayers and process their federal and state returns. As popularity has grown, he said, he has, on occasion, accepted paperwork at the library and brought it to his office to fill in the forms electronically. Some clients start calling in December to make sure they get an appointment, but Specht said he still scans the roster and accepts new clients.

"I'm not sure that there's a whole more that we'd be able to help," Specht said. "The truth is, when all is said and done, I have a soft heart and even if it takes a little more time, I wind up saying, 'Yeah, alright, we'll squeeze it in and get it done.'"

For taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $58,000 who want to file their own taxes, the IRS offers Free File software. There is no income restriction for those who prepare their own taxes and use the IRS's fill-in forms online. To access either program, go to www.irs.gov/freefile.

New Jersey's state income return forms are also posted online for free filing at www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/njfastfile.

For a full list of participating organizations for free preparation services, go to www.irs.gov or call (800) 906-9887. For AARP tax-aid sites, call (888) 227-7669.

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