CPA Conrad and IRS guy Harry Fitzsimmons with a cookbook.  Or are they cooking the books?  Hmmmmm
 
We welcomed Kim Murphy and Maria Ampulski from the Prospect Heights Public Library to our meeting today.  They work with Harry Fitzsimmons, today's speaker, on the Library's taxx preperation service.  
 
Brett gave rave reviews about about the Des Plaines club's trivia night fundraiser.  His table came in second which helped ensure the fun, but I'm sure the fire shots did even more to spread the good cheer.  
 
Alex talked about the club's March Madness pool.  He'll post something on the club's website with the link and details.
 
Harry Fitzsimmons is a Senior Tax Consultant for the IRS and a Relationship Manager for it's SPEC (Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication) programs.  One of those programs is VITA - Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.  The Prospect Heights Public Library has hosted VITA services for three years to great success.  SPEC partners with many different groups - libraries, churches, community centers, etc.  
 
There are three main SPEC programs - VITA; which helps people with low incomes, disabilities, or who speak English as a second language; Tax Consulting for the Elderly which specializes in the returns of seniors; and the Facilitated Self Assistance program which helps people prepare their own returns.  Each program has centers throughout the area, including Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Wheeling and Palatine.  
 
Volunteers for these programs must undergo self-directed training and testing on ethics, taxes, and site procedures before they can help the public.  These requirements yeild a solid corps of committed and knowledgeable volunteers.  
 
The goal of SPEC is twofold - to prepare quality tax returns and to preserve the confidentiality of its clients' information. To help ensure the former, VITA uses TaxWise software which has an automatic diagnostic feature to check for mistakes.  Returns are also reviewed by a second person before it is sent in.  
 
VITA is an appointment based service.  The public can make an appointment beginning in mid-February and slots soon fill up.  The Prospect Heights Public Library is fully booked through the end of the tax year.  The income threshold for these programs is generally $53,200, though some sites may have stricter requirements based upon available space.  People must bring the necessary documentation with them before their return is prepared.  These documents include social security cards for everyone listed on the return, W-2s and copies of previous years' returns.  
 
A key component of VITA's returns is the Earned Income Tax Credit - EITC.  The EITC is a federal program that helps low to mid income families.  How much a household receives depends on their income, marital status, and the number of dependents.  However, to receive funds, a tax return must be filed.  Many low income families don't realize this and don't bother filing a return.  VITA makes sure anyone they help who qualifies receives their full share.  

EITC helped 27,000,000 households in 2013, but approximately 20% of the funds go unclaimed.  Harry called it the best program ever designed by the federal government. EITC families see improved health and development in young children, better school results from school students, and even increased college attendance and graduation.  
 
The SPEC programs do good work in our communities and the Prospect Heights Library is proud to serve as a VITA site.  The IRS has a bad reputation (deservedly at times), but they do have programs that serve the greater good. SPEC is definitely one of them.  
 

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