I Didn’t Spend a Dollar Filing My Taxes This Year and Neither Should You
Here’s how I saved $300 this tax season.

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Like thousands of Americans, each year I spent hundreds of dollars to go to a stuffy, windowless office to get my taxes prepared – to determine the all-important question, would I owe the government money this year?  Since this is such an important task, I was willing to make the costly investment to ensure that everything was processed correctly. I am a young professional, only out of college a few years now, and I don’t have a ton of money to throw at government forms that I, in theory, should be able to do myself. It wasn’t until last year when I started here at United Way and after I filed my 2017 taxes did I hear about our Free Tax program. Previously, I had been working part-time jobs and finishing up my education to make ends meet and the payment I used for the filing alone could have helped. My story isn’t unique, for many households, the large cost of paying for filing make a difference in their finances, something that could instead go into savings or pay off burdensome debt. This year, knowing that I qualified,* wouldn’t let that happen again this year.

So, I went online to make an appointment at www.myfreetaxes.org where you can decide if you want to file in person or online*. You could also schedule your appointment by calling 2-1-1.  Since this is my first time filing my taxes alone, I wanted to make sure that it was correct, so I opted to do it in person with the Free Tax Prep volunteers. I saw that there was availability for a Tuesday at 11 am, set the appointment, and started collecting my paperwork.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to my personal filing day.  For me, the prep took the longest taking me around three hours to compile it all.  Some forms were online, some arrived in the mail, and others I had held onto in my personal file cabinet.  I arrived to the filing site located in the South Natomas Community Center at 10:55 am. While there was a waiting list with about 15 people on it, I was given priority since I scheduled an appointment. The lobby was set for in-take feeding into the computer lab to continue the filing process. I was met by a volunteer who brought me to a seat to start a two-sided intake form that took me about 10 minutes to complete. The same volunteer verified my form then led me to a bright and bustling computer lab for my next stop where I met Tom.  Tom is a retiree who has been volunteering for four years at the site. He took all of my intake paperwork and translated it with my documents into the online system.

For my final step, I met with Joan, a born and raised Sacramentan who has dedicated over 10 years to helping local families file, splitting her time between the AARP Tax Assistance and our Free Tax Prep program. Her role was to give a final look over and explain everything to me that was covered. After her review and final sign-off, I was done.  At the end of it, it was 12:15 pm making the whole process a little more than an hour.  

Sadly, the American tax system is not designed with the common citizen in mind. The forms are filled with jargon, legalese, and many rules and exceptions that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Even with my college degree, and public education, I had a hard time understanding what was needed from me and have been forced to hand over quite a bit of cash to a professional, the only people who seem to know what is going on, each year to fill out a form. Working with volunteers this year was a fantastic experience. Each individual volunteer spends many hours in classes learning about the latest tax law and taking exams, to certify alongside professionals and government employees who do this every day. Having someone meet me at every step of the way, turned this stressful time into an empowering lesson where I was able to learn the steps to take to improve my tax status for next year. They all really exceptional, being patient and breaking down the complex terminology into simple something that I could comprehend.

Thank you to all of the volunteers I worked with for making my experience not just okay, but enjoyable. If you want to learn more about how you can file for free click here*.  If you want to learn more about how you can join the ranks of the amazing volunteers like Tom and Joan, click here. Don’t forget Tax Day is on April 15, don’t wait to file!

*Dependant on qualifying household income