From The Weekly Calistogan: Free bilingual tax preparation service

Getting anxious about filing your income tax returns? Don’t know where to turn for help? Well, here is some sound advice: Don’t ask Sherlock Holmes for deductions; go to the UpValley Family Centers (UVFC) in Calistoga and St. Helena, where trained volunteers prepare state and federal tax returns free for those with low-to-moderate incomes, which generally means anyone making under $54,000 per year.

And these tax volunteers are good at it. Over the past 11 years, volunteers at UVFC have prepared thousands of tax returns and secured millions of dollars in refunds.

Indeed, last year alone, UVFC filed 483 returns and obtained nearly $780,000 in refunds. For some, their refunds helped pay for everyday necessities like food, clothing, rent and transportation. For others, their refunds helped pay for education and health insurance and provided savings cushions for emergencies. Thus, by offering free tax services, UVFC acts on its mission: to provide guidance, support and resources in the community, in the home, and for the individual so that everyone can achieve a better life.

UVFC offers tax services in both English and Spanish under an IRS program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), which is designed to make tax preparation easy for and available to those who are least able to pay for it.

UVFC receives funding from United Way of the Bay Area, our local Wells Fargo Bank, and the Napa Valley Community Foundation. The IRS provides materials, and together with United Way and the California Franchise Tax Board, provides tax preparation training for volunteers. UVFC VITA volunteers are local citizens and students in the Business and Economic Department at Pacific Union College taking a taxation class.

This January, volunteers from UVFC and other County Family Service Agencies attended an intensive three-day training at Napa Valley College on subjects ranging from the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act to the technical rules governing reportable income, deductions, exemptions, educational benefits and tax credits.

Volunteers also received hands-on computer practice on the TaxWise software used to fill out tax forms. Finally, to become certified under VITA and authorized to prepare tax returns, volunteers had to pass rigorous proficiency tests on the substantive and procedural aspects of tax preparation as well as standards of ethics and conduct and the rules of confidentiality.

In short, the volunteers at UVFC are ready, willing and very able to prepare your tax returns.

For many people, especially non-native English speakers, the disabled, the elderly, and those with limited incomes, tax time can be extremely stressful. However, UVFC and their volunteers try to make the filing of tax returns as simple, pleasant, relaxed and speedy as possible.

The process begins with a private interview during which a volunteer collects the basic personal and financial information and documentation needed to properly complete a return.

Once collected, the information is given to another volunteer who uses it to carefully fill out the state and federal tax forms. When the forms are completed, a different volunteer reviews them, checks for accuracy, and then discusses the results with the taxpayer. The returns are then filed electronically.

The free VITA tax service is offered from now to April 18. In Calistoga at 500 Cedar St., service is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and every other Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In St. Helena at 1440 Spring St., service is available on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and every other Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you want to have UVFC prepare your returns, you can call and schedule an appointment or come by either location. You can speed the process by bringing in social security or ITIN cards for you, your spouse, and any dependents; a photo ID; all income documents (e.g., W-2s, 1099s); checking/savings account numbers; health insurance information; last year’s tax return; and for renters, landlord contact information. Remember: UVFC considers all information to be strictly confidential.

If you have any questions, call UVFC in Calistoga at 942-6206, in St. Helena at 963-1919.

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