Read your mail carefully

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Another tax return preparation season is upon us and this is my sixth year of involvement with the IRS sponsored VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. I use tax preparation as a teachable moment to individualize education to families based on their unique set of financial circumstances. I help them understand the income tax code, but also develop strategies to reduce debt and save toward goals such as retirement, home purchase or post-secondary education. In addition to preparing federal and state income tax returns, the software also enables us to prepare Pennsylvania's Rent and Property Tax Rebate forms.

On Thursday, I assisted an elderly couple with preparing their rebate forms. They showed me a solicitation letter they received in the mail that, while not a scam per se, was very deceiving. Starting with a Harrisburg Address - while the letterhead also indicated they were a non-governmental agency, the letter looked very official including a client number. It also indicated they could be eligible for $975 rebate - this is only in effect for larger cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In red lettering it indicated the need for action by March 18. In reality, the deadline for filing this form is June 30 and for the past few years the deadline has been extended to December 30. The kicker for me was, they were going to charge $39 if paying by check or $41 if paying by credit card to prepare the forms. AND clients were to prepay before any work was done!

Not only can seniors get these forms completed for FREE at VITA sites like mine, TCE (Taxpayer Counseling for the Elderly - another IRS program)sites and even state representative and senator office employees can assist in preparing the forms... again for FREE!

I called Representative Matt Gabler's office and they too had seen the solicitation letter. Mention of it was made in the newsletter they create.

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