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United Way provides an eBus to give taxpayers earning under $60,000 free tax preparation assistance

Tax ebus
The Orange County United Way, through several community partnerships, is bringing an eBus, staffed with IRS certified volunteer tax preparers, to Costa Mesa on April 3.
(Lou Ponsi)

Al Hussain used to file his state and federal income tax on his own, without enlisting the services of a professional tax preparer.

Then, he made a $3,000 mistake.

For the past six years, Hussain has taken advantage of the Orange County United Way’s OC Free Tax Prep program in which taxpayers earning under $60,000 per year get free tax preparation assistance from trained volunteers.

However the average person served by the program earns between $22,000 and $28,000, said Maria Mugica, who manages the program for United Way.

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Hussain was among a handful of taxpayers at the United Way’s free tax preparation event on March 5 at University High School in Irvine.

The United Way brings an eBus, essentially a mobile tax preparers office, to all Free Tax Prep program events.

The taxpayer brings their tax documents and paperwork for the volunteer tax preparers, who work on it on the eBus while the taxpayer waits in another room.

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When the taxes are completed, the taxpayer signs off on everything.

“I’ve had no problems,” Hussain said. “I’ve told a whole a lot of my friends to go here and get it done.”

Tax preparers go through three nights of training and have to pass multiple certification exams before they can volunteer.

ebus2.jpg
Volunteer Judd Baguioro, helps prepare taxes on the eBus during the Orange County United Way’s free tax preparation event at University High School in Irvine on March 5.
(Lou Ponsi)

Tax Prep has served more than 107,000 taxpayers, amounting to nearly $93 million in refunds while saving over $20 million in preparation fees.

In 2019, the program served 21,000 taxpayers, and Mugica anticipates topping that number by about 1,000.

“There are so many more people who are eligible,” Mugica said. “We run the coalition in O.C. so we partner with the IRS and then we also have many partners throughout O.C. from churches to nonprofits to cities that help us to either provide services or provide space, and then we recruit over 500 volunteers. That is the only way this program works … because we have volunteers.”

Alicia Thompson, who works in the banking industry, has been a volunteer tax preparer in the program for six years.

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Thompson said saving taxpayers money is fulfilling.

“I like to educate people too,” Thompson said. “There is a lot of education going on.”

For more information, and for a listing of locations offering free tax preparation services, go to ocfreetaxprep.com.

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Updates:
4:47 PM, Mar. 16, 2020: Orange County United Way’s Costa Mesa event has been canceled, but taxpayers in need are encouraged to call their hotline at 888-434-8248.

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