Q: I have to get my taxes done, but don't want to pay a lot of money for getting them completed. I have a relatively simple tax return. What services are out there to help me?
A: I don't do taxes, but I do know a few resources for you. The first resource is the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program (TCE).
The TCE is a partnership between AARP, the IRS and RSVP, sponsored locally by Lutheran Social Services of Jamestown. The other two resources are the VITA program, providing tax help to younger individuals, couples and families through United Way of Chautauqua County, and also Southwestern Independent Living Center.
The TCE program is designed to help those over 60 years of age with low to moderate income. The TCE staff consists of volunteers who are trained by the IRS. The volunteers are then tested to be sure they have a clear understanding of the tax codes and income typical of the older populations, such as Social Security, Railroad Pensions, Retiree pensions and 401(k) distributions, to name a few.
To get some answers to your questions and further details, I spoke to Jack Kachermeyer, the district coordinator of the TCE program for New York District 4 (Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties). Here is some useful information and contact information to set up an appointment with their program:
Whether or not you would need to file a return depends upon your individual situation and your personal circumstances, as well as the type and amount of income received. There is a simple form that can be completed that can answer that question with little difficulty.
If your only income is Social Security, you do not have to file a tax return for the IRS. If you have income from sources besides Social Security, you may have to file a federal and state tax return. Each state has different laws in regard to taxes, and New York state has many income sources that are exempt from taxes.
Income sources that are taxable in New York state and the IRS are private pensions, dividends, investment incomes, wages and capital gains, to name just a few. If you have significant income from other sources, your Social Security (all or part of it) may become taxable. For seniors who are still working and collecting Social Security, there may also be credits that you are eligible for, and this program can help you identify and file for them.
The TCE program begins in February and goes until April 15. These volunteers cannot prepare taxes after April 15. If you must file late, you may need to look for help from an accountant or other tax preparer.
There are income situations that this TCE program cannot help with, and some of those include: seniors with rental property that they own and manage; seniors who have multiple stock transfers, brokerage accounts or complicated investment situations; and seniors who are self-employed.
The TCE program will assist in preparation of the necessary tax forms, both federal and state, by appointment only. The TCE program helps as many individuals and couples as time allows.
The appointments are given at a location that is as close as possible to you. The number to call for all Chautauqua County locations is RSVP at 665-3038. This phone number has voice mail if no one is available to speak to you right then.
Staff from TCE and RSVP will return your call as soon as possible. Those TCE locations include the RSVP office in Jamestown, and Jamestown Senior Center, Westfield and Dunkirk. Please call for an appointment; no walk-ins are accepted.
The second resource is Southwestern Independent Living Center (SILC). They are located at 843 North Main St. in Jamestown. Their staff specializes in helping younger individuals, couples and families with a variety of concerns - tax returns being one of them. Their staff is also trained by the IRS and is part of the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. To reach SILC you can stop at their offices or call 661-3010. This organization can be a useful resource to you for more than just tax returns. SILC provides a variety of services and programs to help those who are disabled.
The third resource is sponsored by the United Way of Chautauqua County. The VITA program here is also available by appointment and is a wonderful resource for those younger individuals who need help with their taxes.
This program is specifically designed to help those low to middle income working people. Their contact information is through the 211 service. Simply call 211, and the operator there can help schedule appointments for this program for both northern and southern Chautauqua County.
All questions in this article were answered by Jack Kachermeyer (RSVP), Marie Carrubba (SILC) and United Way staff. I am not knowledgeable about taxes, but I am very thankful that there are people in our area who can help. All questions should be addressed to these programs at the following numbers: please call the TCE program for Chautauqua County at 665-3038 with questions or to make an appointment; the SILC at 661-3010; and the United Way VITA program at 211 for all of Chautauqua County. An appointment is required to talk with their tax preparers. No walk-ins are accepted. Remember that these are limited resources, and waiting for the last minute is not a good idea. There are only so many volunteer preparers and so many appointments available to those who call.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.
You may submit questions to be answered in later columns to Janell Sluga at Senior Life Matters, 737 Falconer St., Jamestown, NY 14701, or call 720-9797, or by email at email@example.com.
Please remember that not all questions can be answered in this format, but as many as can be, will be.