Lamar University is doing its part to aid Southeast Texans who wish to claim their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by offering free tax return preparation assistance and free electronic filing (e-filing) to taxpayers through its LU Community Outreach Program.
“Since we started this program five years ago, we’ve brought $5 million in refunds back into the community,” said Elton Payne, program manager for the LU Community Outreach Program. “We are very happy about that. The services are provided by volunteers — a combination of students from the accounting department at Lamar and some folks out in community who are willing to help. We provide free tax preparation for individuals and families with incomes of $50,000 or less.”
Payne said Lamar partnered with the Internal Revenue Service to provide the services.
“The IRS provides the training for all our volunteers,” he said. “Our volunteers are IRS certified.”
According to statistics given to Payne by the Internal Revenue Service, more than 60 percent of Southeast Texans eligible for EITC, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly were not taking advantage of these credits.
“There are untold millions left on the table that are meant to help people not only in our area but throughout the nation,” Payne said. “A lot of people are not aware of these credits. They are easy to miss when you try to do the taxes on your own. One thing we try to do is not only to provide the service, but to make people aware of the various credits they can take advantage of.”
The services will be provided at designated community tax centers, Payne said.
“The clients that we see are usually the folks who go to the tax preparers, where there are some fees involved; some folks can pay up to $500 to $600,” he said. “When you are low to moderate income, $500 to $600 is a lot of money. That’s where the free tax preparation program comes in. We try to help those folks in that low to moderate-income category keep that money. We can do anything that the usual tax preparation centers do. We do electronic filing and direct deposit. The only thing we do not do is refund anticipation, where you can get your refund the same day. This is actually a loan (these companies) are giving you out of their on pocket until they can get the money from the IRS. “
The community tax centers provide services for individuals and families, students, senior citizens, as well as non-English speaking individuals. Services are scheduled to begin Jan. 26 and will be available every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at the following sites: Downtown Beaumont Library, 801 Pearl; Elmo Willard Library, 3570 E. Lucas, Beaumont; Theodore Johns Library, 4255 Fannett Road, Beaumont; Catholic Charities, 2780 East Texas Freeway, Beaumont; and Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 3730 Farm Road 160 N., Raywood.
Payne said that grants from the IRS and Entergy Texas have helped make the program possible.
“We’re partnering with Entergy to host a Super Tax Day Saturday (on) Feb. 2 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Elmo Willard Library,” he said. “We’re going to have information for folks on the various credits they’re eligible for. They can do their taxes that day; we’re going to have fun and games for the kids, and we’re also going to have some food and drink. We want to make it a family fun day. Come out, have some fun and get your taxes done.”
Also, Payne said that Entergy has provided funding so that the first 100 kids to show up at the event with their parents will receive a free book.
Walk-in customers are welcome at the tax preparation centers. For more information, contact Payne at the Lamar University Community Outreach Program at (409) 880-7983.