GILA COUNTY — Dorine Prine loves doing taxes. Prine, Gila County’s Community Action Program Administrator, has been a driving force behind growing the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in Gila County.
In its eighth year in Gila County, VITA provides free tax preparation and filing for residents whose household income is $54,000 or less. VITA helps keep Gila County tax refund dollars in the county. By providing fast, free tax prep, VITA also makes the “quick refund” services offered by predatory lenders a whole lot less appealing. Prine explains that VITA got started in Gila County when Community Services Director Malissa Buzan saw a need in the community for tax prep for low income residents. Because Prine had experience doing taxes, it was a natural fit.
Prine and other IRS-certified volunteers will start preparing returns in mid-January at Gila County CAP Offices in Payson and Globe. The Hayden-Winkelman VITA site at the Hayden Senior Center will be open for appointments the first week of February. Prine points out that this year the IRS will not issue refunds for anyone getting Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) or Child Tax Credits (CTC) until Feb. 15 due to the PATH Act, a federal law designed to cut down on fraud. However, Prine says that residents expecting to receive EITC or CTC should still file as early as possible.
For Prine, working with people to file their taxes goes far beyond the hour-or-so appointment. She sees doing someone’s taxes as an opportunity to help. “Taxes are very difficult for people, but I try to make it easy and fun,” she says. Prine has 25 years of experience with tax preparation and has the knowledge to help people make their taxes work for them. She ensures clients take advantage of all the deductions they can, even the lesser known ones.
Buying Girl Scout Cookies, for example, is a deduction that a lot of people miss.
“We want to be able to give everyone the maximum amount of their refund,” she says.
“If someone wants a bigger refund, I talk to them about what to do next year to be able to get it,” says Prine. When she works with a client to file their taxes, she’s always looking ahead to the next year to see what could be done differently to give them a leg up and cut down on surprises. For example, she might suggest that a single parent who is eligible for the EITC and the CTC might reduce their withholding. Although it may bring down the person’s refund slightly, it could give them more money during the year when they need it.
“I’m happy to counsel people to let them know what to do for next year,” says Prine. She’s also quick to remind folks that she’s available year-round. She’d rather talk to people during the year so that they don’t have sticker shock later on. If you’re filling out a new W-4 and need someone to ask about withholding and exemptions, Prine is there. “We can do this year round,” says Prine. “If you don’t understand something I’ll explain it you in your language, not IRS language,” says Prine.
She estimates that an average tax preparation fee is around $250. Many establishments will take that amount out of a person’s refund. Having your taxes prepared and filed by VITA is completely free. “If somebody gave you $250, what would you do?” asks Prine. “Buy propane? Pay your heating bill?” Last year alone, VITA saved Gila County residents over $140,000 dollars in tax preparation fees.
She explains that this savings is particularly important for folks receiving the EITC and CTC. “These tax credits are really so important because they help lift people out of poverty,” says Prine. “It’s essential that we get folks every penny that they have coming to them so they can put it toward emergency savings, childcare, or transportation to get to and from a job.” Last year, Gila County VITA sites prepared and filed 562 returns, bringing $788,661 federal and state refund dollars to Gila County. Prine is constantly working to grow those numbers.
She is especially proud of the fact that she and other VITA tax preparers in Gila County are able to give clients a high level of individualized attention. “Other tax prep sites, you’re in and you’re out,” says Prine. At the same time, they’re able to pull people away from high-interest, rapid refund loans that can come along with hidden fees. “We can give folks the full amount of their refunds in about ten days,” says Prine. “It gives people a lot more money in their pockets.”
To make an appointment for VITA tax preparation call Community Services at 928-425-7631.