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VOC begins expanded tax prep program

Date: 1/26/2010

Jan. 27, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The Valley Opportunity Council (VOC) is once again offering tax preparation for people with lower incomes, but preparing documents for the Internal Revenue Service is not the only focus of the program.

Last week at the official kick-off of the tax preparation season, VOC officials announced a wider program that will encourage participants to open a savings account to better manage their refund money.

Kevin Reed, the director of planning and development for VOC, explained to Reminder Publications, that in the past five years of offering tax assistance, VOC tax preparers have realized many people in the program didn't know how to best handle their refunds.

This year, Holyoke Credit Union, PeoplesBank and Chicopee Savings Bank are working with the VOC to set up bank accounts in what Reed described as "wrap-around services."

Participants can also learn about fuel assistance programs, prepaid debit cards, the WIC nutrition program, the upcoming United States Census, household budgets and other aspects of financial literacy, Reed said.

The program will be going on now through April 15 at several sites in Holyoke and Chicopee:

• VOC main office at 300 High St., second floor, from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays; 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

• In Chicopee at Chicopee Village Town Houses, 68 Eastern Dr., in the community room on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.

• In Chicopee at the VOC offices at 36 Mt. Carmel, Ave. on Mondays from 4 to 8 p.m.; from 8 a.m. to noon for seniors only by appointment; and from 8 am. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

Participants must meet eligibility requirements, Reed said. For example, A family of three must make below $48,000 to qualify he noted.

The program prepares federal and Massachusetts tax forms 1040 with schedules A, B, EIC and R, as well as Form 1040A with schedules 1,2, 3 and EIC, Form 1040EZ and Massachusetts Form 1.

Last year, the VOC program served 1,082 people and this year Reed said the goal is to prepare the taxes for 1,500 people.

He said that people often pay $200 to $250 for tax preparation and can receive their tax refund just as fast with the VOC program without having to pay interest for an advance loan.

Reed said that although walk-ins are welcome, for better service participants should call 533-0214 to make an appointment.

The Massachusetts Justice Project at 57 Suffolk St. is also offering free tax preparation in conjunction with the VOC. Call 533-2660 for an appoinment.