INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - As 2012 winds down, tax season ramps up. For thousands of low-income families in Indianapolis, having their taxes done quickly and correctly is a service the city offers free.
The program is called Indy's Free Tax Prep and in 2012, more than 5,500 returns were filed through the service. The program is based on a national Internal Revenue Service model called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), offering free tax help to people making less than $57,000.
"Literally millions of dollars have been saved by people coming through the Free Tax Preparation through the Campaign for Financial Fitness," says Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.
According to Ballard, the IRS recently awarded Indianapolis a VITA grant worth $122,000 to continue the program during the 2013 tax season.
The free tax preparation program is run through Indy's Campaign for Financial Fitness , an organization spearheaded by the city's first lady, Winnie Ballard. It launched in 2008 as a way to bring economic stability to Indianapolis households.
Indianapolis resident Justin Ferguson is a man who serves as an unofficial ambassador for the organization. He spent 39 years in prison and was only released two years ago. At the age of 62, he is only just learning the principles of financial fitness.
"I never knew how to earn money," Ferguson says. "I just knew how to take it. But they've helped me understand how to earn it, keep it, and save it."
Ferguson speaks to groups now about financial security and the importance of saving money – even a small sum.
"You can start small — $5 a week. That's better than nothing," says Ferguson.
Ferguson will have his taxes done in 2013 for only the second time since getting out of prison. Likely, the person who helps file his return will be a volunteer – possibly from Huntington Bank.
"Literally, we have almost 15 percent of our workforce here in Indianapolis involved in this program," says Regional President of Huntington Bank, Mike Newbold.
Huntington Bank gives upwards of $25,000 a year to the program and trains dozens of volunteers to help people file their returns.
"[The money we help them save] could be the difference between being able to pay the heating bill this month or having enough groceries to feed the family," says Newbold.
Volunteers are needed to help with the city's tax preparation services. Click here if you're interested.
To find out if you qualify for Indy's Free Tax Prep, click here.
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