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Tax tips: With preparation, you can file returns from home

Jay Sowers | The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — As tax season heats up, many folks in the Miss-Lou will look for help filing their returns. But instead of shelling out big bucks for a certified public accountant, do-it-yourself taxpayers can avoid the CPAs if they just follow a few basic instructions.

A majority of tax payers in the Miss-Lou have pretty straight-forward circumstances that allow them to be able to handle their taxes themselves, said Charles Caldwell, managing partner at Silas Simmons.

“Plenty of folks could do it themselves, and that’s what I would encourage them to do,” Caldwell said. “It varies according to the tax payer and what they understand.”

The first step is always to gather your information, Caldwell said.

“You have to organize your information and make sure you have all the documents together,” he said. “They need documentation for any deductions they plan on taking, and that applies if they are having it done by a professional or on their own.”

This includes proof of income, receipts and state and federal tax forms.

The Internet has become a very useful tool for anyone that wants to do their own return, Caldwell said.

“There are certainly software programs available that can help people,” he said. “If your return is pretty straight-forward, it will work pretty well.”

Caldwell also recommends the IRS website that has a lot of useful information along with links to various free e-filing websites.

Online resources and free e-filing have become popular tools, and Vickie Johnson, who coordinates the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in Concordia Parish, said most of these online sites are easy to use.

“If they are knowledgeable as far as their income and basic computer (skills), it is simple,” Johnson said.

VITA offers a free service that helps people file their taxes. The program provides a free alternative for people who need help with filing.

“What we do is help them when they can’t do it at home,” Johnson said. “We are a volunteer tax preparation that is trained by the IRS to be able to do this.”

The websites provide step-by-step guidelines to file, and if the person has the right documentation the process is simple, Johnson said.

Online filing is also available for state returns in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Caldwell said the biggest issue he runs into on individual returns is people missing out on potential deductions.

“We see people that have missed deductions and missed opportunities,” he said.

The IRS has a list of itemized deductions on its website for people to examine before filing a return on their own.

People with questions on deductions, but still wanting to file their taxes for free can use the VITA program. If they bring in all their documentation, a volunteer like Johnson will help them file at no cost. Free-tax assist day at the Vidalia branch is Feb. 19 and March 19. At the Ferriday branch, it is March 5. Interested taxpayers need to bring ID, Social Security card, and birth certificates for children, income statements and last year’s returns. A similar program is offered every Wednesday until April 15 at Armstrong Library in Natchez.