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Free tax service moves online during pandemic

ST. LOUIS – Each year, LaTaunia Kenner and other volunteers have spent the days before April 15 face to face with low- to moderate-income people who needed extra help filling out their tax forms.

Then came COVID-19, and the face-to-face meetings ended – but not the free tax help.

This year, the free tax help continues through Zoom meetings. That pleases Kenner, who is one of about 25 volunteer tax preparers from the St. Louis Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. The IRS has certified all of them as volunteer tax preparers.

LaTaunia Kenner
“We thought it would be a very difficult process at first, but after several sessions, it is becoming more simplified, and taxpayers are being able to use the technology very efficiently,” said Kenner, who is Deputy Comptroller of Finance and Development for the office of St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green.

The St. Louis Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants is working with Green and St. Louis Community College in the project to prepare free 2020 income tax return preparations for low- to-moderate wage earners, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities.

The program served about 750 taxpayers or more clients last year and about 900 in previous years. It won’t serve that many this year, Kenner said.

A number of the clients come every year, she noted.

“We actually know their names, almost consider them family members,” Kenner said. “We are actually glad to see them at the site so we can perform this service for them.”

Although computers are at the heart of the program, those who aren’t sophisticated in technology can get help through it.

“With some of the phones, we actually are able to instruct them in how to download their documents,” Kenner said. 

“Some make not even be able to learn how to put information into a drop box. We even accept some of the taxpayers that are less technologically inclined,” Kenner said. 

Taxpayers might put a document up to the screen so a preparer can read their numbers. Sometimes they might read numbers to a preparer.

But there are limits. “For those who do not have any technology to assign with a Zoom interview, we have to refer them to the United Way,” Kenner said.

A variety of people use the service, Kenner said. They include single people with children who get earned income tax credit, those who get child tax credit, married couples, senior citizens who receive pensions and numerous others.  

In general, the clientele includes those with low to moderate income, usually up to $60,000. People above that income may also be included on a case-by-case basis. 

“The No. 1 question is: Am I getting any money back? Am I getting a refund?

Also high on the list, Kenner said, are: “Can I claim a person as a dependent?  Did I get enough taxes withdrawn? How do I get more taxes withdrawn?”

One common question this year is whether a person is a “gig” worker.

Those who want to sign up may go to nabavitastl.org or call 314-657-3435 for more information. Appointments are on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. through March 17; and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through April 10. 

 

They must have their Photo ID; Social Security card or taxpayer ID; and Social Security cards for their dependents; all W-2’s and 1099’s; mortgage interest statement, tuition or student loan interest statement, personal property tax statement; and health insurance information for them and all dependents    

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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