Koren Harvey used to hire someone to prepare her taxes and always ended up owing hundreds of dollars to the federal and state governments.
For the past few years, the Freeport woman has received free tax preparation from a program run by Bethpage Federal Credit Union and has owed little or nothing.
“This is a big help because I don’t have much to claim, so I don’t understand why I should be paying $150 for a simple return,” Harvey, 45, said as she waited for tax help on Saturday at the credit union’s Freeport branch.
Harvey was one of 2,600 to 2,800 people Bethpage’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program expects to help this tax season, said Robert Suarez, a Bethpage assistant vice president who oversees VITA for the credit union. The program is targeted at people earning $55,000 a year and below.
About 200 volunteers — most of them local college students or Bethpage employees — have spent the past several weeks preparing taxes at 12 Bethpage locations and at local libraries and other sites, Suarez said.
Bethpage is one of a number of companies and organizations nationwide with a VITA program. This is the 13th year Bethpage has participated, Suarez said. Volunteers take a training course and must receive Internal Revenue Service certification.
Shara Cohen, a volunteer from Baldwin, said many of her clients are unaware of ways they can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on their taxes, such as with education tax credits or the earned income tax credit, which benefits many working people with low to moderate incomes.
“It can be a lot of money back for people, and a lot of people don’t know about these things or how they work,” Cohen said.
Cohen, a data analyst with an MBA, said she volunteers because she knows how much a few hundred extra dollars can mean for people with modest incomes. The tax code is confusing for most people, and it’s easy to pay too much, she said.
Those who hire tax preparers sometimes shell out $400 or more, Cohen said.
“These are people who need that money,” she said.
Noel Williams, 74, of Uniondale, said he’s grateful for the assistance. Years ago, the retiree paid to have his taxes done. But now, he said, “I’m on a fixed income and I couldn’t afford H & R Block.”