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Seniors, veterans, urged to file taxes before deadline
Local IRS office offers free last-minute tax help

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Many senior citizens, veterans, and disabled persons who have received Social Security, or other benefits for a number of years, have gotten into the habit of not filing their taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service, however, is urging those groups to file a tax return before April 15, if they want to receive this year's economic stimulus package.

The stimulus package was recently approved by President George W. Bush as a way to jump-start the nation's sagging economy.

Individuals who file a tax return and receive at least $3,000 a year in salary or benefits can receive $300-$600.

Those who file a joint tax return can receive $600-$1,200 and people with children can receive $300, per qualifying dependent.

However, misconceptions and lack of information are deterring some seniors and veterans from filing, according to IRS Georgia media contact Mark Green.

"One of the biggest rumors that has been circulating throughout the state is that if recipients who receive Social Security, or veteran pay, utilize the stimulus package, it will affect the recipient's benefits," said Green. "That is not true. That is a tactic that causes seniors not to file ... we just want to reassure them that it will not affect their benefits and they will not have to pay tax on this amount."

Mystique VanO'Linda, managing member of VanO'Linda and Associates, an accounting, tax, and financial services firm in Jonesboro, said some seniors do not understand they have to file a tax return to receive the economic stimulus package.

"We're seeing a lot of our older clients collecting retirements who normally wouldn't have to file having to file," said VanO'Linda. "If they haven't filed in a long time, they still have the perception that they don't have to file, but they do to collect that stimulus payment."

VanO'Linda said during this tax season, only two clients on Social Security have come into her office to file a tax return. She said many seniors have not filed taxes in so long that they do not know where to go or assume it is not worth the effort.

"Without the awareness, they are going to lose out on reaping the benefits," said VanO'Linda. "For people who live on fixed incomes, it will be beneficial."

Green said of the four million Georgians expected to file tax returns this year, many of them have "stepped up to the plate." As of Friday, he said about three million returns had been filed -- 2.4 million of those returns were filed electronically.

"One of the reasons we are pushing people to electronically file is that electronic returns cost the taxpayer 35 cents, while a paper return costs taxpayers $2.87, which adds up quite a bit when you're talking about four million tax returns," said Green. "For that reason alone, it saves money for everyone involved."

To assist last-minute filers, Green said the IRS would be helping people this Saturday file their returns electronically, free of charge. The free tax preparation assistance will take place at the IRS's metro Atlanta office, located at 401 West Peachtree Street from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Atlanta office of the IRS is within walking distance from the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Rail Civic Center Station. Call 1-800-829-1040 for more information.