Free tax filing program from Temple returns, but as remote-only service

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A program that offers free income tax filing assistance to low-to-moderate income individuals has made a return for the 14th year. The pandemic, however, has the service making some changes.

Last year the program, which is regulated by the Internal Revenue Service, was forced to switch to virtual methods in mid-tax return filing season because of shutdown orders related to COVID-19.

"It was quite hectic, it was quite messy," admitted Dr. Steve Balsam, an accounting professor and coordinator of Temple University's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. "We did our best, but this this year we are prepared."

Balsam said there will be no in-person appointments this year, so contactless modes of delivery were created to reach as many people as possible. Sending documents online is the preferred option.

"So you have a computer and you have a smartphone and you know how to take pictures with that smart phone. There is an interactive platform that will allow you to fill out all the required forms for us and submit all the required documents to us electronically," he explained.

"(The interactive platform is) a secured platform. It's been approved by the IRS. If the client has issues, we interact with them during that process."

Video conference such as FaceTime and Zoom, or telephone calls, can also be arranged, at (215) 326-9519. Balsam also said there are drop boxes being set up if people are unable to submit forms electronically. Forms can also be mailed to the program's post office box.

"Which is P.O. Box 1031, Springhouse, PA 19477," he detailed.

So far, approximately 50 faculty, students and alumni from Temple University's Fox School of Business are volunteering to prepare income taxes for those who make less than $56,844 a year.

"For most people with income below that level, we or other VITA sites can do your taxes for free," said Balsam.

Balsam warned there are some things all tax filers should be aware of.

You can't e-file to the IRS until February 12, because 2020 tax laws are still being added to software. Also, stimulus checks are not taxable.

And if you are employed by a Philadelphia company and not a resident of the city, and had to work from home instead of the Philly workplace, check with your employer, to see if city wage taxes were put on hold. If not, the city may owe you a refund.

Balsam said although the IRS deadline to file taxes is currently April 15, he would not be surprised if there was an extension, as there was last year.

He said he looks forward to the day, hopefully next year when the program can resume person to person meetings. "Where we can see people, shake their hands, occasionally give them hugs," he joked, adding people keep coming back because the no-cost service is the right price.