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For those people who cringe at the thought of preparing their income tax returns, help is now available, and it’s free of charge.

“This program is sponsored by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and we’re encouraging folks to get their taxes done for free,” said Blake Williams, who is with the Good Faith Fund.

Through a grant from the Pine Bluff Area Community Foundation, accounting students at SEARK received a stipend allowing them to receive extensive training on preparing the tax forms for area residents.

“The idea is to give the students hands-on training before they go into the accounting profession” Williams said. “They will get a certificate from the IRS and actually a career boost because while they might have the education, they would not have had the experience without a program like this.”

Ramona McKinney with the Good Faith Fund said free income tax preparation has been offered in Pine Bluff for the past three years.

“We’re providing a service to a lot of our low and moderate income citizens,” she said. “The returns are being filed electronically, meaning that people will get their money back quicker, and be able to put it back in the community.”

Residents can also get information about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, federal programs for people who work but don’t earn enough money, she McKinney said.

Williams said the free income tax preparation service will be offered for the next two Saturday’s at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Service Center, then back at SEARK on Feb. 13, one week before the Arkansas College Goals Sunday event which is a state-wide program offering potential college students information on how to get money to pay for college.

“Through this partnership, our students and potential students can get their tax returns prepared Feb. 13, then come back Feb. 21, to apply for college funds,” Lyric Seymore, interim Dean of Technology Studies at SEARK said, explaining that one of the requirements to apply for federal student aid is a completed 2009 federal tax return.

While only a few people had taken advantage of the free service by about noon Saturday, both Willams and McKinney said they expected the next few Saturday events to be busy.