Free tax help offered by volunteers in Macon

Free tax preparation help is now available in Macon, and Georgia Department of Revenue retiree Lane Moseley knew free volunteer help was a better deal than a costly service.

“It was people helping people, and I love that. That’s the reason I came,” said Moseley, 86, who was getting help Tuesday at Mercer University. “It’s very expensive to get them done by professionals. Praise the Lord for volunteers.”

A team of eight volunteers from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps began helping people with tax preparation this week. They will move around the Macon area through March to help.

One of the AmeriCorps workers, Lauren Brown of Indiana, said the AmeriCorps volunteers are qualified and passed intermediate-level Internal Revenue Service testing. Brown said the volunteers are trying to find all possible credits, eliminate tax preparation costs and bypass check-cashing fees and other extras that some companies charge.

“Our goal is to maximize the amount they get back,” she said.

The group, working with Volunteer Macon, is offering the tax preparation to families earning less than $48,000, and can help computer-literate families making less than $57,000 file online. Workers in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program are targeting low-income, single-parent and single-person families.

Alfonza Binford, a retired Robins Air Force Base worker, said he’d been quoted as much as $250 for a basic tax filing. One preparer wanted more than $100 for the form, plus $20 if a check was received. Last year, he paid someone $25 to help.

Binford, 66, said the free service offered by AmeriCorps volunteer Jeremy Moore of Ohio certainly beat those prices -- and Moore was teaching him about taxes as they went. Moore turned his Dell laptop around on a table so Binford could peer at the screen from beneath his University of Georgia cap.

“Do any of these situations apply to you?” Moore asked, referring to public safety jobs and foreign bank accounts.

The AmeriCorps workers will work around Macon when they’re not sleeping on cots in the Southside Community Baptist Church. Next month, they’ll leave to build a YMCA trail in Mississippi.

Evelyn Banks, who coordinates the program for Volunteer Macon, said this year’s partnerships with Mercer University and the Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation Department should get tax preparation help to perhaps 300 to 600 people. Banks said about 165 families were served last year in a single site, the Booker T. Washington Community Center.

Banks said most refunds come quickly, in about six business days. Some people who could get the free help are paying for services like “rapid refund,” which charge fees and interests.

“The individuals we serve can’t pay $5 to have a check cashed,” Banks said. “They can’t pay $300 to have their return done.”