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With Affordable Care Act Mandates Causing Confusion Among Tax Filers, MU VITA Sites Provide Free Tax Preparation Help

MU Extension offers face-to-face tax education

Feb. 06, 2015

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

COLUMBIA, Mo. – For many, filing tax returns this year will be a confusing process because this is the first year that Americans must have health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or face tax penalties. To assist Missourians with their tax return preparation, tax experts in the personal financial planning department in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri, the MU School of Law and MU Extension have opened their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. Sites will be open around the state, including two on the MU campus. Andrew Zumwalt, an assistant extension professor for financial planning and a member of the University of Missouri Extension faculty, says for those who have bought health insurance through the ACA marketplace, or have changed plans in the last year, filing their taxes this year may be complicated.

“Because this is the first year of tax returns under the new ACA regulations, it is a learning process for everyone: tax filers, tax preparation assistants, and the IRS,” Zumwalt said. “If you have health insurance through work and have not had to change plans in the past year, all you should have to do is check a box and you are done. However, for those who bought health insurance through the ACA marketplace, had to change insurance plans for any reason, or experienced a gap in insurance coverage for any reason, it may be quite complicated.”

Zumwalt says some people may qualify for exemptions from the ACA mandate, which will allow them to avoid paying tax penalties. Also, he says recent changes in the tax code may allow more people to claim education tax credits if they have dependents earning scholarships at higher education institutions. Zumwalt encourages Missourians to stop by any of the MU Extension VITA sites around the state if they need help or have any questions about whether they qualify for an ACA exemption or other tax credits.

Zumwalt wants Missourians to be aware that they can also file their taxes for free online at a new online VITA website: www.MyFreeTaxes.com/MoTax

VITA is an IRS-sponsored program that provides free tax preparation assistance for low- to moderate- income-level households that earn less than $53,000. Trained community volunteers may help with special credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. In addition to free tax return preparation assistance, most sites also offer free electronic filing. Last year, MU VITA sites served nearly 1,800 mid-Missouri families.

The MU campus VITA sites are located in 162 Stanley Hall and the law library in Hulston Hall. The Stanley Hall site will be open from 4:30-8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The Hulston Hall site will be open on Mondays from 4-7:30 p.m. MU will also operate a site at the Family Impact Center on 105 E. Ash St. in Columbia from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. To search for VITA sites around the country, visit: http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/.

Zumwalt says the VITA program not only helps participants file their taxes; it also provides MU students a great learning experience.

“The students who actually prepare taxes at MU have been through an IRS training and certification,” Zumwalt said. “Those who qualify can have their tax returns prepared for free, and students learn how to communicate with clients about their finances. This year we are excited to have trained students from the MU School of Law helping alongside students from the Department of Personal Financial Planning.”

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