CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Sharon Terry is one of 24 volunteers with Tax Help New Mexico at Clovis Community College.
By Liliana Castillo: CNJ STAFF WRITER
In previous years, Wayne Painter only looked at his tax forms as he passed them to a professional preparer.
This year, Painter was able to file taxes for himself, his family and his friends because of what he learned volunteering at Clovis Community College offering free tax help.
Part of the state-wide program Tax Help New Mexico, CCC offers free tax preparation for area residents. The program is in its fifth year and has added a second location at the Lincoln-Jackson Family Center.
Volunteer preparers go through a week long course and pass an Internal Revenue Services certification exam for volunteer preparers, according to program accounting instructor Monica Sanchez.
Individuals must have earned an income of less than $42,000 and not have an overly complicated return.
Painter, a business administration student and father of four, said he’s learned more than he thought he ever would.
“It made a few things click. It will test your mind when you’re doing it. I’ve learned things that I could have used years ago,” he said.
Becky Carruthers, CCC dean of educational services, said she and Sanchez wanted to bring the program to Clovis because of what it offers the students and the community.
“We love the service-learning component,” she said. “Not only are the students learning something new, but they give back to the community.”
Each year, the program has doubled the number of returns it prepared the previous year. After preparing 289 returns in 2008, Sanchez didn’t think the numbers would follow the same trend. However, after two weeks, this year’s program has prepared 258 returns.
“People want to get the most out of their refund because of the economy and they save on fees,” she said. “But mostly, the word has spread. Some of our people have been coming back each year and they tell people.”
Sanchez said the volunteers will be able to answer questions about how the new stimulus package will affect their return. She said that the IRS releases updates and the volunteers study them.
Sanchez and Carruthers said they don’t compete with private, paid preparation firms.
“Most of the time, the returns we do are so simple, it would be too easy for them anyway,” Carruthers said.
Painter, one of 24 volunteers, said that the program has proven to be a positive asset in the community.
“Being on this side of the desk, I’ve seen the usefulness of the program. It’s a good service,” he said.