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Get Your Taxes Done for Free

Santa Clara County and local Mountain View sites offer free tax-preparation services to the community.

A $5,666 tax refund could come in handy for a family with three or more children. If they file for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) when they file their 2010 income taxes, they might just get it.

To assist families who might not have money to pay for help with their taxes, several Silicon Valley organizations like the United Way Silicon ValleyInternal Revenue Service (IRS) and Catholic Charities have gotten together to provide free tax-preparation services to people in Mountain View through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites.

“We know from the IRS that there are a lot more people eligible for the EITC that don’t even know about it,” said Carole Leigh Hutton, president and chief executive officer of United Way Silicon Valley. “We’ve got to get these folks into the sites.”

Hutton said in 2008 when United Way began helping with the VITA sites, the program helped filers get $3.8 million in tax refunds.

Last year, the program grew to $5.7 million in tax refunds to the county, Hutton said.

Many locals do not know of all the credits and possible refunds for which they are eligible.

José Ortiz, a Mountain View resident, said he qualified for the EITC but nobody told him about it last year. Ortiz went to on Rengstorff Avenue for his tax preparation.

"I came here because of the economy; it’s free here," Ortiz said. "My job put up a paper that [had information about] the information and possibly larger refunds."

The VITA site had helped quite a few clients on its first weekend of service, according to Paul Chestnut, a volunteer with Catholic Charities at one of the VITA sites in Mountain View.

"We’ve had 10 or so clients before 10 a.m. on the first day," Chestnut said. "So I’d say that’s pretty good. Last year, we had only 40 people the whole season. This is looking great."

Chestnut said some volunteers at the centers speak Spanish and Tagalog. 

The volunteers go through certified training, and a different set of eyes, a reviewer, looks at the forms before somebody at the center can call it “done” and e-file them. 

“It’s very important we make sure their return is correct," Chestnut said. "Accuracy is a big deal to us."

This is David Mendenhall’s second year as a volunteer. This year, he decided to seek another level of certification so he can be a reviewer.

Mendenhall said that when clients enter the site, they speak with a volunteer, fill out a form and answer questions about education expenses, charitable contributions and gross income, among others.

“This helps make sure the client get all the credits and benefits the client’s entitled to and helps us decide if he qualifies for free services,” Mendenhall said.

Client need to make less than $49,000 a year to qualify for the service.

There are more than 30 VITA sites in the county, with two in Mountain View. St. Athanasius Catholic Church will offer services on Feb. 19 and March 5 from 9 a.m. to noon. on Miramonte Avenue will offer services on the other Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, until the end of tax season on April 16.

For the full list of sites, go here. Residents may call 211 for more information, or United Way at 408-345-4311.

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