Fast, Free Income Tax Preparation and Free E-Filing
available at neighborhood locations

by Doris Honsa

(Plain Press, February 2005) January marks the month when employers are required by law to get W-2s and other income documentation to Americans getting ready to file income tax returns. It’s also the time for lots of print and television advertising by fee-based tax preparation business. Such services charge fees to prepare tax returns, plus fees to file returns electronically, plus fees for what might be called an “instant tax refund” that is actually a loan (and quite an expensive one.)  

While such services might seem tempting, the Plain Press has found several free sources of highly trained, experienced income tax help in Near West Side and other neighborhoods.

These free tax assistance resources are equipped with trained volunteers and computers with special IRS software set up in familiar  neighborhood locations, such as libraries and non-profit organizations, to help taxpayers uncover available tax benefits, fill out federal and state tax returns, and then file them electronically- right then and there.

Such “e-filing” is the fastest way to get a tax refund, eliminating the need to pay for a tax refund anticipation loan from a fee-based tax preparation business.

(A tax refund anticipation loan, or “instant refund” is a short-term loan from a fee-based tax preparation business for the amount of the anticipated tax refund. Its advertising is often aimed at a) taxpayers who would rather have someone else fill out their returns, and b) taxpayers who are expecting a tax refund.  

Since this “instant refund” is in fact a loan, its real effect is draining away an often sizeable portion of the refund. There are loan application and preparation fees to pay, along with the fees for preparing the tax return, plus fees for electronic filing. If the IRS says there are mistakes on your return that reduce your anticipated refund, you’re still obligated to repay the tax refund anticipation loan.)  

The free tax help services, by contrast, can perform  tax services at no cost at all. They can also be used to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low income working people. For eligible workers who don’t owe taxes, filing for the EITC can even result in a refund check, without affecting other benefits workers might be receiving.

Here’s a listing for some of the free income tax and EITC assistance by days available. Be sure to call beforehand to confirm times; most require advance reservation. Unless a specific date is stated, most locations schedule appointments February till April. 

CPL West Park Branch Library,
3805 W.157 (Lorain at W.157) noon-4 pm; call 216-623-7102

CPL Carnegie West Branch Library,
1900 Fulton ( Bridge and Fulton), 9:30 am – 12:30 pm ; call 216-623-6927

Merrick Senior Citizens Center,
3167 Fulton Rd., afternoons, call 216-281-4212

Gunning Recreation,
16700 Puritas, 1-4 pm; call 216-267-9945

Merrick Senior Citizens Center,
3167 Fulton Rd, afternoons, call 216-281-4212

CPL South Brooklyn Branch Library,
4303 Pearl Rd (Pearl and State Roads in Old Brooklyn), 9:30 am – 12:30 pm, call 216-623-7067

(The above locations are part of the AARP Tax-Aide Program, open to all ages and incomes)

Weekends: (may have income restrictions;  call ahead for info and reservations)

Saturday, Feb. 12:
Westown CDC,
10321 Lorain, call Denise at 216-941-9262 ext.14

Sunday, Feb.13:
St. Ignatius High School,
1911 W. 30 (at Lorain), Call Arrupe House at 216-961-1260

Saturday, Mar. 12: 
Westown CDC,
10321 Lorain, call Denise at 216-941-9262 ext.14

Saturdays, Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26, and Mar. 5:
City Mission,
5310 Carnegie Avenue, call Michael Fletcher at 216-431-3510.

Bring to your appointment this year’s tax forms and preparation booklet if you received one; copy of last year’s federal and state returns if available; all wage and earning statements from employers (W-2s); any 1099 forms, statements showing social security or unemployment compensation received; all forms showing federal income tax paid; receipts or cancelled checks if itemizing deductions; photo id; social security number for all dependents; child or dependent care provider information (name, employer, ID, social security number).

To get a refund even faster, e-file at your appointment and direct your refund to be automatically credited to your bank account. You can do this by bringing your bank account’s routing number and account number (or bring a voided, blank check). If electronically filing a married filing joint return, both persons must be present to sign.

The Lakewood Public Library also offers free tax preparation and e-filing services by appointment at both its Main Library and Madison Branch. The Lakewood Library’s Computer Technology Center at the Main Library, 15425 Detroit Avenue, also has free Earned Income Tax Credit Clinics where trained volunteers help you file for the EITC yourself on the Center’s computers. Call 216-281-226-8275, ext.127 for information or reservations for the February sessions.


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