Sue Stockman works for the Internal Revenue Service. When she tells people she works for the IRS, she says, "It's the best conversation stopper ever." However, when she talks about a public-private partnership between the IRS, Oregon, and tax preparation software companies that provides free tax filing online, she says the conversation becomes more interesting to people. Based in Seattle, her job is to coordinate educational programs about the IRS in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. Stockman recently came to Bend, along with Congressman Greg Walden and Eric Smith of the Oregon Department of Revenue, to promote the free program for filing both federal and state taxes online.
Since 2003, major name-brand tax preparation software companies have teamed up with the IRS, 20 states and the District of Columbia to enable eligible taxpayers to file both their federal and state tax returns online at no cost. "Since 2003, more than 43 million returns have been filed using these free file programs," Stockman says. In general, people with an income of $62,000 or less are eligible to use Free File. The IRS estimates that since the program's inception, more than 40 million taxpayers have saved $1.3 billion in tax preparation costs using the IRS Free File program.
In Deschutes County, Stockman says the program works in partnership with AARP's Tax-Aide and is helping save residents millions of dollars. AARP Tax-Aide coordinates free tax help at six different locations throughout Deschutes County, including the Bend Senior Center. "Last year, the volunteer tax preparation sites in the Bend area prepared over 3,500 tax returns, which included over $1 million in Earned Income Tax Credits and $3.4 million in tax refunds," Stockman says. She continues, "Those dollars are not only great for the individuals and families, but it's also money that is re-invested into Deschutes County."
Free File software uses a simple interview-style process to help people identify all the credits and deductions for which they are eligible, which often are not claimed. The IRS estimates that up to 25 percent of those eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit fail to claim it and miss out on a refundable federal tax credit of up to $6,200.
Eric Smith of the Oregon Department of Revenue recounted a personal story of the benefits of Free File. "A friend who knew where I worked and was troubled about her taxes came to me asking for help," he said. "I went to Free File and we worked on it together, and within a short amount of time she knew the exact refund she was going to get. She was ecstatic." Congressman Greg Walden, who visited the Bend Senior Center on Friday, praised the program saying not only is it a way to file taxes for free, but it helps identify tax credits that may be otherwise left on the table. "Government would like you to be overly generous, but you would like to keep that money in your pocket and in the community, and that's important," he said. For the IRS Free File program, visit irs.gov/freefile. For the Oregon Free File program, visit oregon.gov/dor.