Students offer free tax preparation for local families

Families looking for a tax refund don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to get it thanks the help of local college students.

About 40 students from Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College are helping local families find deductions and file their taxes free of charge.

The program, SaveFirst, is a project of Impact America and is sponsored locally by the United Way of the Big Bend, FSU’s Center for Leadership & Social Change, TCC and Florida Campus Compact.

“They don’t need to pay $300 to get their taxes done at a commercial preparer,” said Karen Harris, program coordinator at the Center for Leadership & Social Change.

The students, she said, have undergone eight hours of training and up to three hours of testing to become IRS-certified tax preparers.

Rose Rodriguez, a sophomore from St. Petersburg, Fla., is trained to handle more complicated returns.

“It definitely has been an enlightening experience working with these families and understanding their day-to-day struggles,” Rodriguez said. “When a taxpayer comes in, they come in with their whole lives on paper.”

This can make them vulnerable, she said. Sometimes her work can mean the difference between a client getting new clothes for her children or not.

“My experiences with them have helped me want to go that extra mile,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very diligent when I prepare their taxes with them, maximizing the money they should be receiving and that they deserve to have.”

The project is important to Rodriguez, who said she’s been studying the purpose of tax credits such as the earned income tax credit in class.

“Its purpose is to help you make ends meet but also to help you invest in yourself,” she said. “To achieve the American dream of social mobility — where you started off doesn’t determine where you end.”

On average, the students work with about 10 families a day, but they have the capacity to serve many more, Harris said. So far, the group has served at least 300 families.

The program is aimed at families with incomes of about $52,000 a year who are likely eligible for the earned income tax credit or individuals with incomes of $20,000.

“But we’re open and ready to serve anyone,” Harris said.

This service is available Thursdays at TCC’s student union from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Florida Blue Center, 2116 Apalachee Parkway.

Volunteers will also be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at Florida Blue, as well as Saturday, April 16, which is the final weekend before the April 18 filing deadline. There will be no service during spring break.

Walk-ins are welcome, but those with appointments are given priority. To make an appointment, call the SaveFirst appointment hotline at 1-844-4-TAX-FLA (1-844-482-9352).