Free Tax Preparation in Sonoma County
February 14, 2019
February 14, 2019
Filing taxes is no favorite chore for a winter day, or any day for that matter.
But for Christina Andrade of Santa Rosa, the experience Saturday morning was not so burdensome. She was one of more than 60 local residents who were able to get their taxes done for free at Empire College.
Andrade participated in the United Way’s Earn It, Keep It, Save It program for low- and middle-income families in Northern California. The program kicked off Saturday at various locations around the North Coast.
For Andrade, it was her third year using the program and she views it as an incredible resource as a single mom with two children and a new job. Like most people, she doesn’t have time to keep up with recent changes in tax law.
“It’s not just that it’s free,” said Andrade, a compliance specialist with Burbank Housing. “Everyone is nice and they are very helpful with my questions to my tax return. I always have certain questions that I’m not sure of.”
Changes in tax law this year include California’s move to expand the state’s earned income tax credit, widening the qualifying income levels and age range, now anyone 18 and older.
“A lot more Californians are going to get that tax credit back,” said Suzanne Harris, financial stability program officer for the United Way of the Wine Country.
The United Way program is available for any resident of Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties whose family makes $60,000 or less annually. Those who want to learn more or schedule an appointment can call 211.
Last year, the program served 6,300 individuals, who received $8.3 million in refunds that went back into their accounts. The goal for the program this year is 6,500 clients.
Another benefit: The program saves filers from $250 to $300 that they would likely pay for a private tax preparation service.
“I can’t afford that, especially with my income level,” Andrade said of such costs. The average gross income of the program’s tax clients in 2018 was $24,723.
Andrade will receive a refund this year that she will use to pay off student loan debt, make repairs to her car and take her 8-year-old son to Disneyland.
“I have taken my daughter there, but not my son because I didn’t have the money,” she said.
The tax sessions also provide an opportunity for volunteers to refer clients to other programs to help them improve their financial stability.
The United Way has teamed with Catholic Charities on another effort that provides credit counseling, advice on how to boost savings and assists with sign up for Medi-Cal and CalFresh.
“I always say the tax return is like the gateway to building your own financial goals,” Harris said.
The Press Democrat. (2019). Sonoma County residents turn out for free tax preparation by Bill Swindell. Photo: Alvin Jornada/The Press Democrat [online] Available at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9239421-181/sonoma-county-residents-turn-out [Accessed 3 Feb. 2019].
“I have been very satisfied with the quality of the graduates from Empire College. They are capable, smart, hard working, helpful, and friendly. I have utilized Empire’s paralegal interns, and all of our law clerks have been Empire law students.”
– L. Steven Turer, Attorney at Law