Money: Does anybody win at tax time?

Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics Train Accounting Personnel while Providing a Valuable Service for Low Income Families and Individuals

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Spring is a time of rebirth. There are new leaves on the trees, flowers are starting to bloom and the world buzzes with activity.

Spring is also tax time. Small tax firms and accounting offices spring up all over the urban landscape – and in communities throughout Canada – dozens of Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics begin to get ready for the busy season ahead.

It takes time for new immigrants to get settled, find steady employment and begin new careers in Canada. At some point in the settlement process, many of you will find yourselves among the “Low Income” part of the population – which means that you can have your taxes prepared free-of-charge at one of these tax clinics.

It is a good deal for everyone concerned, because you are not only saving money, you are helping volunteers get experience and possibly a foot-in-the-door in the tax preparation, bookkeeping and accounting fields.

Every January, Woodgreen Community Services at 835 Queen Street East, begins training volunteers to staff their Annual Income Tax Preparation Service for Low Income Individuals and Seniors.

Esther Yip, the Volunteer Services Assistant and Woodgreen says that they start looking for volunteers in December. “We take on about 100 volunteers between March 1st and the end of April. All of them have accounting backgrounds. Training begins in on January 16th and continues until February 15th. All our volunteers are sent to Revenue Canada to be trained in preparing Revenue Canada’s T1 General Form.”

The T1 General is the basic tax form – and the only one that everyone needs to fill out. If you do not receive one in the mail, you should pick one up at your nearest post office or revenue Canada office.

“It is worthwhile to file for income tax even if you were unemployed, since you will still receive the GST Tax Credit,” says Yip.

After the volunteers finish their training at Revenue Canada, they receive additional peer support training at Woodgreen – workshops given by experienced volunteers. 80% of the volunteers in this program are immigrants.

That number explains why Woodgreen can offer their tax preparation services in more than 20 languages including include English, Cantonese, Farsi, Filipino, French, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalo, Urdu and Vietnamese.

Carol Fox, the Volunteer Services Manager in charge of the tax clinic program, says proudly, “According to the Revenue Canada website, Woodgreen is one of only four Multi-lingual Volunteer Tax Clinics in the GTA.”

“Our volunteers get a lot out of it,” says Fox, “They help the community. They meet lots of new people. They get references. It can count as volunteer hours toward CGA or CMA accreditation. And volunteering at the tax clinic can lead directly to a job – most likely a temp job in accounting or tax service, but we have had volunteers who later got hired by Revenue Canada.”

If you’re interested in a volunteer position at Woodgreen’s tax clinic, the best method of contacting them is by e-mail at volunteer@woodgreen.org

Can You Have Your Taxes Prepared Free at a Tax Clinic?

If you earned less than $25,000 in 2006 and you a SIN number (even one with a nine number work permit), you qualify to have your taxes prepared free at the clinic. Two person families who have earned less than $30,000 also qualify.

Add $2,000 for each additional dependent. So if you are a single parent with two children and you earned less than $32,000) – you qualify. Unfortunately, the tax clinic cannot do your taxes if you were self-employed, if you were a landlord (and made money by renting rooms or properties) or if you make more than $200 a year in interest income. Income that you make from overseas properties and investments is taxable in Canada, but that portion of your income tax cannot be done at the clinic. You would have to go directly to the Revenue Canada office.

Where do you get your taxes prepared if you don’t qualify?

If you get a good job before the end of your first year in Canada, there’s a good chance you won’t qualify to have your taxes done at a Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinic. How do you get your taxes done?

Learn to Do It Yourself

Just a short distance from their Volunteer Tax Clinic, Woodgreen Community Services has an Immigrant Services office at 815 Danforth Avenue, where newcomers can learn to do their own taxes. Understanding the Canadian tax system will make you more independent – and save you money. Because if you don’t qualify for free tax preparation and you don’t prepare your own, you will have to pay someone else – whether it’s a friend who does bookkeeping, a professional accounting firm or commercial tax preparation service. A simple tax return for an individual shouldn’t cost more than $50 for a tax preparation company to prepare the tax forms or $150 for an accountant.

Many immigrant and community service agencies across southern Ontario offer Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics as well as classes and workshops in preparing your own taxes. And most welcome volunteers. For more information about volunteering at a tax clinic or the location of the nearest clinic where you can get your taxes prepared free-of-charge, call the Canada Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-8281. To volunteer at Woodgreen, e-mail them at volunteer@woodgreen.org.

So it’s not just the government that wins at tax time – you can receive free tax preparation service at tax time or gain valuable experience through your neighbourhood Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinic.

That’s enough to put a spring in anyone’s step.

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