SAN ANTONIO - Valerie Rodriguez used to go to the mall to have her taxes done.
"I always pay a big fee, but this time I made sure to come and save my money," she said.
Rodriguez was among the first Tuesday to take advantage of free tax help provided by VITA, the Volunteer Tax Assistance Program.
Twenty-one sites across town opened their doors. To be eligible, individuals or joint-filers must earn $60,000 or less.
"It covers our low-income, but it also covers our middle class that can't actually afford to pay to have their taxes prepared," said Sheila Anderson-Ruth with the City of San Antonio Community Initiatives Department.
Last year, local VITA sites completed nearly 35,000 returns for refunds totaling $58 million.
Trained tax preparers handle basic tax returns making sure clients claim any child tax credits or earned income tax credits for which they qualify.
"A lot of taxpayers depend on those to pay off bills, pay healthcare bills, buy cars or put downpayments on homes," Anderson-Ruth said.
One difference this year is tax preparers asking questions about health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Subsidies have to be reconciled with incomes.
Taxpayers who enrolled in the federal marketplace will receive a 1095A form in the mail from the government.
Electronic filers can expect refunds within 14 business days. However, those who filed by paper can expect delays. Because of budget cuts, the IRS says refunds from paper tax returns may take as much as seven weeks.
Sylvia Ghazelli was in and out of the Frank Garrett Multi-Service Center, 1226 NW 18th Street. And, she was happy with her refund.
"It's a good one, too," she said. "I can pay bills."
VITA is offered new conveniences this year. Some locations offer express service for those who have only one W-2 to process. Some locations will also allow people to drop off their tax information so it can be prepared within 72 hours.
Applicants should brings a valid photo ID, Social Security Card or ITIN for all family members, all W-2 forms and a copy of last year's return if applicable. Also bring 1099 forms if applicable. If filing jointly, both people must be present to sign.
North side: Ed Cody Library, 11441 Vance Jackson Road; Goodwill, 13311 San Pedro; Thousand Oaks Library, 4618 Thousand Oaks Drive; Westfall Library, 6111 Rosedale Court.
West side: Bazan Library, 2200 W. Commerce; Forest Hills Library, 5245 Ingram Road; Frank Garrett Center, 1226 NW 18th Street; Guadalupe Community Center, 1801 We. Cesar Chavez Boulevard; Henry Guerra Library, 7978 W. Military Drive; The Neighborhood Place, 3014 Rivas; St. Mary's University, 2507 NW 36th Street; Sul Ross Middle School, 3630 Callaghan Road; YWCA 503 Castroville Road.
East side: Claude Black Center, 2805 E. Commerce; Ella Austin Center, 1023 N. Pine Street; St. Philips College, 1801 Martin Luther King Boulevard.
South side: Millers Pond Community Center, 6175 Old Pearsall Road; Mission Library, 3134 Roosevelt Avenue; Palo Alto College, 1400 W. Villaret; Presa Community Center, 3721 S. Presa Street.
Central: University of Incarnate Word, 4301 Broadway
For hours and more information: www.vitasa.org.
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