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Volunteer program helps Stettler residents file more than 500 tax returns

Information about the volunteer tax preparation clinics on display at the Stettler Information and Referral Centre. - Casey van Wensem/Stettler Independent
Information about the volunteer tax preparation clinics on display at the Stettler Information and Referral Centre.
— image credit: Casey van Wensem/Stettler Independent

Another tax season has come and gone, and volunteers in Stettler have been busy throughout the past two months helping people file their tax returns.

Through the Stettler Information and Referrals Centre, a group of volunteers work to provide free tax preparation services for qualifying individuals and families.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to an accountant, and every penny that they can save helps,” explained Lorraine Hankins, executive director of the Information and Referrals Centre. “So if we can help out to save some costs, it’s great.”

The tax preparation program runs year-round, but March and April is when most of the work happens, Hankins explained.

This year, volunteers in the program helped complete over 500 tax returns, which is on par with their annual average, according to Hankins.

The program is part of a national initiative spearheaded by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Through CRA, local volunteers receive training to help individuals and families complete basic tax returns, free of charge.

Qualification for the program is based on each person’s income level, and those who don’t qualify are referred to an accountant.

Every year, volunteers across the country complete “hundreds of thousands of tax returns per year for free,” Hankins said.

The volunteers at the Information and Referrals Centre come from all walks of life, although they all have some interest in accounting.

“They usually have accounting experience or are interested in going into the accounting field,” Hankins commented.

This year, new government programs such as carbon tax rebate mean that some people may get increased rebates, depending on their income level.

As of January 1 2017, single adults earning less than $51,250 and families with combined incomes of less than $100,000 will receive carbon tax rebates from the Alberta government.

In order to claim these rebates, all you need to do is keep your tax returns up to date.

“If you don’t file your tax return, you miss out on the government programs,” Hankins said.

For those who have missed the filing deadline, Hankins encourages late filing, even if you haven’t filed your taxes for several years.

“With the economy, we find that there are more people who haven’t filed taxes for a long time,” she said.

The good news is that you can still claim benefits retroactively, even if you haven’t filed a tax return for several years.

“We usually do returns from up to 10 years back,” Hankins said.

The goal of the tax preparation program, she said, is to help people keep their taxes up to date and to take the cost out of the equation for those who would find cost to be a barrier.

 

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