Free income tax filing assistance will be available to many area residents beginning today.

Southern Bancorp and its nonprofit affiliate Southern Good Faith Fund have partnered with the Internal Revenue Service to provide the service to families with an annual income of $42,000 or less.

“Some folks, if they did not earn enough income, did not get the full amount of the economic stimulus payment last year and that’s something they need to watch for and can pick up this year,” Blake Williams, Southern Good Faith Fund special projects manager, said.

The volunteers, Williams said, have been trained to recognize all tax credits due to taxpayers. The program’s IRS-certified volunteers will file tax forms electronically allowing families to receive returns quickly.

Last year, the first year Good Faith’s Pine Bluff office participated in the assistance program, the organization and volunteers helped bring over $190,000 worth of refunds back into the community, Williams said.

The program, known as VITA (volunteer income tax assistance), is scheduled to continue until the end of tax season.

To make a tax filing appointment, call Williams at 535-6233, ext. 17, or visit Southern Good Faith Fund, 2304 W. 29th Ave. The program will operate weekdays 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Whether a person qualifies for free filing assistance or not, electronic filing is an option to consider.

The IRS announced recently that it is opening an expanded electronic filing (e-file) program.

The e-file program, according to IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, includes new improvements that will allow nearly all taxpayers to file electronically for free.

“These are tough times, and e-file is the best way for people to get cash in their pocket quickly,” Shulman said. “Filing electronically with direct deposit can get refunds to taxpayers in as few as 10 days.”

To learn more about filing a return electronically, visit www.irs.gov and click on the blue ‘e-file’ link on the left side of the page.

Computer programs such as TurboTax may be useful in simplifying the filing process, whether submitted electronically or by mail.