The United Way of Mid Coast Maine is looking for IRS-certified volunteers to participate in a tax preparation program designed to ensure participants file for all tax breaks they qualify for.

The organization’s CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Program is a free tax preparation program that works to ensure those eligible for tax breaks, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Childcare Tax Credit, apply for them. Participants also have access to asset-building education, including debt reduction programs, credit review, and matched savings accounts.

The United Way of Mid Coast Maine is a local branch of a national nonprofit aimed at improving people’s quality of life through financial stability, healthcare and education, among other resources. The United Way of Mid Coast Maine serves people in Sagadahoc and Lincoln Counties, Brunswick and Harpswell.

Last year, 12 volunteers donated over 780 total hours to help 205 Midcoast residents file their federal and state tax returns, which brought in $379,489 in total refunds, according to Maria Hinteregger, director of community impact for the United Way of Mid Coast Maine.

Hinteregger said the nonprofit saw fewer participants last year because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the program to transition to a fully remote format. In 2020, the start of the pandemic cut the program short in March, but the program had already helped just over 300 people, and Hinteregger said they were on target to help about 500 residents by the end of tax season.

This year, the program will be in-person again in the hopes of increasing availability and participation rates, but Hinteregger said the United Way is looking for four more tax preparation volunteers. Volunteers will receive IRS tax certification training and don’t need prior experience.

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Gene Wiemers of Bath became a tax preparation volunteer for the United Way nine years ago as a way to both stay busy in winter after retirement and contribute to his community.

“I had heard about this program, and it appealed to me because it’s a direct service to people, and a little bit geeky,” said Wiemers. “I like the contact with the people, and you know you’re working with people who need it and appreciate it.” 

Wiemers previously worked as a librarian, is familiar with technology, and has filed his own taxes for decades, which was enough to learn how to be a tax preparation volunteer. Now, he renews his IRS certification regularly to continue volunteering with the program.

“Most of the clients we have, they could do their own taxes, but many don’t know the benefits they could receive,” said Wiemers. “For some families, the returns can be the equivalent of a month or two’s income. You’re entitled to it; you just have to know about it and file.”

Hinteregger said this service is especially useful now when the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some to lose their financial footing and things like state and federal stimulus checks can make the tax filing process more confusing for some.

Those who aren’t well-versed in financial language often do the easiest thing when filing their taxes and miss tax breaks they’re eligible for, so the CA$H program’s volunteers identify credits and benefits the average person might not know to look for, such as a credit that teachers can receive for classroom supplies, said Hinteregger.

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Hinteregger said the IRS’s Earned Income Tax Credit in particular is “underutilized and sometimes people feel like they don’t understand it enough to claim it.”

“That’s something we address so we can make sure people get all potential tax credits and benefits that they might not otherwise claim,” said Hinteregger. “It can be thousands of dollars that they’re leaving on the table. We lose sight of the fact that, for someone on a fixed income, getting an extra $100 that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise is huge.”

The IRS and U.S. Census Bureau estimate that almost 80% of workers eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit claim it. The roughly 20% of eligible taxpayers who don’t claim the credit, however, total about 5 million people, resulting in about $7 billion in unclaimed benefits annually, according to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

To qualify for the United Way’s CA$H Program, a household’s combined income for the year must be $58,000 or less with no types of income or expenses, such as rental property, farm income, or self-employment with more than $35,000 in expenses. All working members in the household must work within Maine, cannot be active military members, and no one in the household can be a foreign student, teacher or trainee on a visa, according to the United Way of Mid Coast Maine’s website.

To make an appointment with the United Way’s CA$H program or view the qualifications for the program, call 211 or visit cashmaine.org.

Taxes can be filed from Monday, Jan. 24 until Monday, April 18.


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