Niagara Gazette

February 9, 2014

Consumer Credit Counseling offering up free tax prep this season

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Tax season will be a little less costly for Niagara Falls residents this year.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a Cheektowaga-based non-profit, will be offering free tax preparation as part of an effort to expand its services in Niagara County. The non-profit is working with a list of Niagara County agencies on a project called the Niagara County Financial Literacy Initiative aimed at helping low-income residents better manage their finances.

Tara Vogel, the vice president of the non-profit, said her agency hopes to help low- and middle-income residents avoid paying for-profit tax preparation agencies, where the average cost for services is almost $200.

The non-profit is encouraging clients to prepare their taxes on their own, either online through the link on its website or through the assistance of an IRS certified representative — if they feel comfortable doing so, she added.

“They can save that $200 and they can add that on top of the refund they may be expecting in addition to that,” Vogel said. “It’s sort of an empowerment thing as well, so that somebody is preparing their own taxes and learning about that process as opposed to handing that over to a tax preparer.”

In addition, some tax preparation agencies engage in predatory services, giving customers their money immediately, but charging as much as 10 percent.

“Often times what we see is that folks just want to get to their refund so quickly that they’re willing to kind of set aside the notion of losing that money in order to do that,” she said.

Taxpayers who file electronically can see their refund check arrive within two weeks in most instances, according to Vogel.

The money saved by waiting for the check could help people pay down debt or catch up on bills, she added.

“It’s a large chunk of change that’s coming at you all at once and you think, OK, well the quicker I can get it the better,” she said. “In the long run you’re really only hurting your finances.”

The non-profit also offers financial coaching from advisers and financial literacy classes.

Residents can either follow instructions at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service website or they can schedule a face-to-face appointment with a representative from the non-profit at its Niagara Falls offices in the Family and Children’s Services Niagara Family Center, located at 1522 Main St.

Residents can schedule appointments on Tuesdays from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. through the end of March.

Taxpayers must have a household income of $58,500 a year or less to qualify for the assistance.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service’s Niagara office can be reached at 299-0911 and the free tax preparation software can be accessed by visiting www.consumercreditbuffalo.org and clicking on the “myfreetaxes” button.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257