Tax season is upon America again, and Kentuckians struggling to keep up with the changes have plenty of opportunities for assistance.
Across the state are numerous sites where residents can get help with common forms that might be too confusing for them. And the people behind some of those sites are expecting even more calls for help.
The United Way-affiliated Central Kentucky Economic Empowerment Project continues to look for volunteers willing to be trained to assist, said financial stability manager Tracy Thurston.
To volunteer, visit Uwbg.org/ckeep. Each volunteer goes through roughly eight hours of training followed by studying of materials and taking competency tests.
"The more volunteers we have, the more returns we can prepare," Thurston said.
Last year, volunteers at the organization's 22 sites prepared 3,875 returns, up from less than 3,000 in 2011.
A CKEEP site in Richmond is expecting even more visitors this year.
"We have done this site most of the years with four volunteers, but we've grown that to seven this year because of the demand," said Melissa Gross of community action group Kentucky River Foothills, which works with CKEEP to organize the site.
"What we're really proud of is we try to have a conversation with people about what they'll do with their refund," said Gross, program developer for Kentucky River Foothills. "We see it as a great opportunity to encourage people to spread that out over their budget for the entire year or develop an emergency fund.
"We try to take it to the next step of saying, 'You have this money; let's make a plan for it and make it last through the year.' "
While CKEEP is expecting more requests for help, a state government-organized program is reducing hours. The state's 10 Taxpayer Service Centers will not take appointments on Wednesdays this tax season, dropping to only Tuesdays and Thursdays.
That's because there are so many other options available for assistance, said Barbara Barnes, executive director of the Department of Revenue's Office of Field Operations.
But the state has made a change that Barnes thinks will excite many taxpayers. The Department of Revenue website at Revenue.ky.gov now allows taxpayers to check on the status of refund checks.
Taxpayers need only enter their Social Security number and the exact amount of the refund, she said.
Until now, taxpayers could call an automated line to learn the status. Last year, that line received more than 91,000 calls in February alone, Barnes said.
"We saw a huge need for that," she said. "It's a benefit to the taxpayer."
How to get tax help
What: The state Department of Revenue offers free assistance at its 10 Taxpayer Service Centers across the state.
Where: Locations are in Ashland, Bowling Green, Corbin, Florence, Frankfort, Hopkinsville, Louisville, Owensboro, Paducah and Pikeville.
When: Help is available Tuesdays and Thursdays, but appointments are required and can be made by calling your local Taxpayer Service Center.
Caveats: Assistance is limited to people with annual incomes generally below $50,000. There are a number of forms the state will not assist with. Visit the website for specifics.
Learn more: Revenue.ky.gov/hot+topics/iita.htm or Revenue.ky.gov/aboutus/taxpayerservicecenters.htm.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
What: Community organizations throughout the state administer the program for free using trained volunteers.
Where: There are nearly 100 VITA sites ni the state, with 12 in Lexington. For a list of locations, call (800) 456-3452 or visit Assistance.ky.gov/freetaxhelp.
When: Various times. Some VITA sites allow drop-ins, but most require appointments.
Caveats: There are income limits, so call first and see if you're eligible for assistance.
Economic Empowerment Project
What: CKEEP staffs the IRS-trained VITA sites in Lexington and in several Central Kentucky counties.
Where: 22 locations.
When: Appointments are required. Dial 211 to schedule an appointment.
Caveats: There is a rough income limit of $50,000, and the organization's volunteers won't fill out certain forms, including those for farm income or members of the military.
Learn more: Dial 211.
What: AARP runs many free tax help sites for lower-income taxpayers, with special attention paid to older people.
Where: There are five sites in Lexington and many others throughout the state. Call (888) 227-7669 or visit Aarp.org/taxaide for addresses.
When: Times vary; some sites accept drop-ins.
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz