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Airline bags fly tax-free

Walmart is back in the tax business

Last year, the world's largest discount store partnered with United Way and the nonprofit One Economy Corporation to offer free filing services. For the 2010 filing season, Walmart, through its Foundation, is back in the temporary tax help business, bringing in 2010 a new partner, the National Disability Institute.

Regardless of what you think about the Arkansas-based company, it's hard to scoff at tax time help, especially for folks who can't afford to pay a professional to decipher the tax code for them.

Like last year's program, the filing assistance is available in a variety of ways.

United Way Worldwide will assist folks making less than $49,000 with free tax and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) filing at 91 community-based tax preparation sites.

Similarly, the National Disability Institute's Real Economic Impact Tour will assist qualifying taxpayers with disabilities who earn $49,000 or less. It's not really a mobile tour, but rather tax assistance centers that this year are in 100 cities across the country.

And folks making a bit more -- up to $58,000 -- should be on the lookout for the MyFreeTaxes.com national tour. This program includes vans equipped with One Economy's online tax filing technology and IRS-trained tax professionals who will visit 30 communities across the United States, starting today.

IRS is involved: Did you notice the phrases "community based" and, more importantly, "IRS-trained" in the discussions above about all this tax help?

Now I know that IRS-trained is going to get some eye rolls, but these are not the folks answering (slowly) the agency's phones. These are volunteers who want to help their neighbors.

That's why the $49,000 income threshold cited by both United Way and NDI also is notable.

This year, it's the earnings limit set by the IRS for tax help that Uncle Sam supports through a variety of community groups (yep, back to that phrase).

If one of the Walmart assistance centers isn't in your community, track down a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in your area by calling 1-800-829-1040.

The University of Missouri also has launched MoTax, a Web site where you can search for free tax preparation sites such as VITA, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) and AARP filing assistance programs, by state, county and city. It will  not only give you the address and phone number of the tax-help site, but you can see a map to help you get to the location.

EITC assistance: Did you also notice the earlier reference to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)? This is a tax benefit for people who work, but who don't make a lot. It was designed to essentially offset some of the Social Security taxes that are taken out of paychecks.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the EITC has been enhanced for the 2009 tax year. This table shows the potential credit, which is refundable (meaning if  you owe nothing, you'll get a refund from the IRS), available on returns filed this year:  

Number of
qualifying children

Single filer
Married,
joint return filer
No kids
$13,440
$18,440
1
$35,463
$40,463
2
$40,295
$45,295
3 or more
$43,279
$48,279

Yesterday was EITC Awareness Day at the IRS. Basically, agency officials spent the day talking to the media in hopes of getting more eligible taxpayers to claim this tax benefit.

Historically, says the IRS, a quarter of the folks who could claim the EITC don't do so. Usually those who overlook it are workers without kids.

Remember, while families do get larger EITC benefits, you don't have to have children to get some money from this tax credit.

Don't forget Free File: Finally, if you do have a computer (Duh! you're reading this, right?), see if the IRS' Free File program works for you. This year, it's available to taxpayers whose 2009 adjusted gross income was $57,000 or less.

As you can see, there are lots of ways that many folks can get low- or no-cost tax help or file tax returns for free. If you qualify, be sure to take advantage of them.

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