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Don’t miss your family tax credits. There’s free help in Whatcom County

Here’s where to find free help on your taxes

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is providing free tax preparation assistance at two Bellingham locations through April 15, 2019.
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The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is providing free tax preparation assistance at two Bellingham locations through April 15, 2019.

Broke in Bellingham: This is the one in an occasional series about coping with family finances in Whatcom County.

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There’s still time for Whatcom County residents to get help doing their taxes through a free service manned by volunteers.

For some who are trying to make their dollars stretch, not having to pay to get their taxes done “means the world to them,” said Carlton Nathon, the district coordinator for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, which will provide the free service until April 15.

Volunteers do more than save people the cost of help with filing their taxes.

They can help low-income parents with children get a refund of thousands of dollars.

“This is the difference between surviving and not surviving,” Nathon said.

That money comes to parents via the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit.

“It is one of the biggest tax credits for working families in particular,” said Anastasia Polda, the financial stability coordinator for the Opportunity Council, of the earned income tax credit.

Low-income residents who don’t have children also may get an earned income tax credit.

“It’s one of the largest governmental anti-poverty tools,” said Lisa Sohni, the outreach and development manager at Opportunity Council.

And, yet, it’s an underused tax credit, according to Polda.

“It’s basically money that’s sitting there that’s available to people and they’re legally entitled to,” she said, “but if they don’t file then they don’t find out.”

An estimated 20 percent of workers who could get the credit don’t claim it, according to the IRS.

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AARP offers free tax preparation service through April 15 at First Congregational Church in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Help with taxes

The tax help is at First Congregational Church in Bellingham on a first-come, first-served basis.

The services also are available at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center by appointment, although those slots have filled up.

Last year, the program helped about 1,500 people at the church and nearly 350 people at the Senior Center, according to Nathon.

He said the church was the “single largest free tax site in the state of Washington.”

The free service is available to all taxpayers regardless of age or income, although the focus is on helping senior and low-income taxpayers.

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Carlton Nathon is the district coordinator for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, which will provide the free service until April 15. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Nathon said a lot of single parents and senior citizens use the service, estimating that the average age was around 50 and the average income about $27,000.

Tax help at the church occurs from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

The church is at 2401 Cornwall Ave.

Information on other free tax prep services is available at the Whatcom Asset Building Coalition’s website, whatcomabc.org. Click “Taxes” on the home page.

Let us know

We were inspired by Broke in Philly’s reporting on economic mobility and know it’s an issue here as well. We’d love your input on what makes you feel broke in Bellingham and Whatcom County and invite you to share your experiences, frustrations and solutions. We’ll use your feedback to develop future stories. Tell us by sending an email to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com or use the hashtag #BrokeinBellingham.

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Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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