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Non-Profit Spotlight: Pisgah Legal Services

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Pisgah Legal Services (PLS) is well known for their free, civil legal aid programs and their work offering one-on-one assistance for health insurance enrollment. They offer a wealth of free services encompassing services for children, seniors, veterans, consumers, victims of domestic or sexual abuse, immigrants, as well as programs to help prevent homelessness, protect public benefits and alleviate poverty. But did you know PLS also offers free tax preparation services for qualifying individuals who need assistance in preparing their own tax return?

Offering Free Tax Assistance Since 2020

Launched in 2020 with a specific focus on Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) available to individuals and families within a certain income range, in 2021 PLS received funding from the Dogwood Health Trust to expand their tax program and Affordable Care Act program under one umbrella–the Economic Recovery Program (ERP). Now, they help clients with all matters of filing. Trained advocates are available to consult with clients who are unsure if they should file taxes, and to help them understand the pros and cons of filing.

Says Economic Recovery Program Managing Director Mike McDonald, “To date, we’ve helped roughly 1,000 people with their taxes: 832 under the umbrella of the EITC program in 2020-21 and more than 170 under the ERP program this year.” Many of these were first-time filers, people who haven’t filed in a few years or people who don’t meet the income limits to have to file. Adds Mike, “Unfortunately, if you hadn’t filed your taxes in 2019/2020, you were unable to receive the stimulus checks offered during the pandemic. But it’s not too late—we can still help you with that!”

Who Qualifies for Assistance? 

The PLS program offers help to those who make less than 200% of the federal poverty line. For a single person, this is around $25,500. For a family of 5 this is around $61,300. Affirms Mike, “We are happy to help all ages and abilities, as well as Spanish speakers.” 

A few caveats: 

  • Due to IRS restrictions and current capabilities, PLS cannot help active military personnel—PLS encourages them to visit militaryonesource.mil for more information and to find a certified location at a military base in NC
  • There may be stipulations for those who are self-employed
  • Those who make more than the income cut-off but less than $72,000 will be referred to a link for free self-service online filing

Who Are the Volunteers?

PLS’s volunteer tax preparers come from various backgrounds. As a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site, each volunteer is certified through the IRS, although not all are necessarily CPAs. PLS follows all protocols specified by the IRS for VITA sites to protect each client’s privacy and provide high quality service and security, even if a client has complicated questions or concerns. 

What Documents Are Necessary?

During the phone screening process, the Pisgah Legal staff member or volunteer will talk with clients about their specific situations and help them determine what documents to bring to their appointment. In general, they can expect to need:

  • Some form of photo ID 
  • Original social security card, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Tax forms such as W2s, 1099s, etc.
  • Copy of last year’s income tax return, if applicable
  • For direct deposit of refund, you will need a check or deposit slip from your bank with the routing number for your account

How Do the Appointments Work?

PLS offers primarily drop-off appointments for tax assistance after a phone screening takes place. Then:

  • Clients come by with all their documents and a staff member scans to a secure filing system
  • All documents are returned to the taxpayer immediately
  • After about one week, clients can return to original drop-off site to sign their documents
  • Tax forms are then electronically filed for NC and the IRS 
  • Scanned copies are deleted after the return is completed
  • PLS and the software they use does NOT keep copies of original docs (W2s, 1099s); the software keeps the information in the tax return in case they need to make changes, file amendments, and to help the next year
  • Taxpayers receive printed copies of their tax documents

PLS also offers virtual filing to those who can send materials securely via encrypted email (PLS can provide instructions). 

Important Facts to Remember 

  • PLS offers year-round tax assistance across all 18 counties of Western North Carolina. 
  • People who make less than the required minimum income to file taxes–around $18,000 per year—do not have a deadline to file and PLS will assist them with electronically filing both Federal and NC tax returns, securing tax credits, and receiving missed stimulus checks. 

To sign up for PLS’s tax assistance program, call the dedicated tax number at 828-210-3404. Please visit https://www.pisgahlegal.org/taxes for more information.

 

For information on other programs offered by PLS: Children’s LawConsumer LawElder Law, Domestic and Sexual Violence PreventionHomelessness PreventionHealth JusticeIncome SecurityVeterans LawCommunity Economic Development