JoCo on the Go Podcast: Tax Assistance
On episode #153 of JoCo on the Go, we talk all about how to get some help with taxes. You will learn about Johnson County K-State Research and Extension’s VITA program that provides free income tax preparation assistance to those who qualify, along with some information about property tax relief programs available to eligible homeowners in Johnson County.
Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.
|03:56||About the VITA program|
|06:12||Eligibility for VITA|
|12:02||Property tax relief overview|
|15:43||Safe Senior program|
|17:06||Senior or Disabled Veteran program|
Andy Hyland 0:00
As winter begins to turn to spring, it's also the beginning of another kind of season: tax season. As the residents across the county begin to work on their income tax returns, we'll talk about a Johnson County program that helps you complete your income taxes, along with a little bit of information about property tax relief programs too. On this episode, we'll welcome some guests who can talk all about getting help with taxes in Johnson County.
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Andy Hyland 0:45
Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Andy Hyland, and I'm a Johnson County resident and I work here in Johnson County Government in the Office of Public Affairs. And we are here to talk taxes. And we're going to start now with how to help get some help with income taxes. And so our first two guests are here to talk about the VITA program from Kansas State Research and Extension. It provides free basic tax return preparation to people who qualify for the service. And Joy Miller, first up, is an extension agent with K-State Research and Extension. Joy, can you tell us a little bit about your role as a family community wellness agent?
Joy Miller 1:26
Yes, so as a family and community wellness extension agent, I focus on wellbeing aspects like personal finance. So that's where the income taxes come in. And we also provide services through the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas, which help people with their Medicare process or their annual drug comparisons online. And then also do some programming around adults and the aging population. So just cover a plethora of programs to meet our community's needs.
Andy Hyland 2:07
Fantastic. And also joining us is Susie Mize, volunteer VITA site coordinator. So welcome, Susie. And can you tell us a little bit about your role and how you contribute to the program?
Susie Mize 2:18
Thank you. Yes, as the site coordinator, my responsibility is the oversight of the of the entire site. So I'm responsible for making sure we have the supplies we need, the volunteers that we need, make sure our volunteers are certified the way they need to be and that the site runs smoothly. Our site has been here for...well, we've been at this at this location for five years, but we've been in Johnson County for 14 years.
Andy Hyland 2:44
So thank you, Susie, we'll get back to you soon. But Joy, I'd like to start with you. So let's start with a little bit about a basic description about what K-State Research and Extension is. I know many are familiar with it, but some listeners may not be, so tell us a little bit about it.
Joy Miller 3:00
Okay. K-State Research and Extension is part of the land grant university through K-State. We extend the research and the knowledge and programs from the university level out to each individual community or county in the state of Kansas. So we provide services that cover many areas, from community vitality to horticulture and agriculture to family and consumer science topics. So we cover a large range of information and topics. We do educational programs to help serve our community's needs.
Andy Hyland 3:44
Great. Let's talk a little bit about the VITA program in general, the program we're here to talk about, to get people help with their taxes. What is that and how long has it been around?
Joy Miller 3:56
VITA stands for volunteer income tax assistance. It started in 1971. It has been in Johnson County for 14 years. We work in partnership with El Centro and the Kansas City Metropolitan Tax Coalition. And the basic program is to help people save money on tax preparation costs, find deductions they may have overlooked if they did it themselves and to help them catch up on previous years of unfiled tax returns. Then I would say the other piece is identity theft, those who don't need to file tax returns that maybe file for homestead taxes, we can complete that filing process to prevent tax fraud.
Andy Hyland 4:51
That sounds a little bit like, to me, a little bit like H&R Block for free in a way.
Susie Mize 4:58
In some ways it is.
Andy Hyland 4:59
Yeah, that's great. So what kind of impact does that have on our community to have a program like that?
Joy Miller 5:07
So the initial impact is just saving money on tax preparation costs. And so in 2022, we saved over $280,000 worth of costs, just to have your taxes prepared. And last year, they filed a little over 1,000 tax returns, so they do the federal and the state piece with that. And then we do also keep track of the average amount of refunds those people receive, and that was over $1.2 million. So we're trying to put the largest amount of refund back into our citizens' pockets and save them those tax preparation costs.
Andy Hyland 5:55
That's wonderful. That's wonderful. So Joy, I want to bring in Susie now. And so Susie, you're a volunteer VITA site coordinator. So I want to ask you a little bit about the eligibility for this program. Who is eligible to receive this kind of assistance?
Susie Mize 6:12
The income limit for the household is $60,000. I will say, however, the average that we do is probably more like $25,000. We deal with low-to-moderate incomes, simple returns. But anybody who doesn't have a complicated return, and by that I mean a business that lost money or something along those lines, somebody that has W2s, 1099s, and that sort of thing. That's a simple return, and it's under that $60,000 limit is eligible to come to us. We're a bilingual site. So we offer Spanish as well as English. So we serve a lot in the Spanish community. And we also serve a lot in the deaf community, because we're in Olathe, obviously, so we get a lot of the deaf community in there, too.
Andy Hyland 6:59
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And so do you do both state and federal returns?
Susie Mize 7:05
Yes. And we can do any state, if somebody works in Kansas City, Missouri, for example, and lives in Johnson County, we can do Kansas and Missouri, or if they moved here from California, we can do California and Kansas.
Andy Hyland 7:17
It's for Johnson County residents primarily or exclusively?
Susie Mize 7:21
We're located but we don't limit it to that. And that's where the majority of our come from. There are two or three sites in Wyandotte County and several in Kansas City, Missouri and around the metropolitan area. So the majority of our clients do come from Johnson County.
Andy Hyland 7:36
That makes sense. So how do people take advantage...
Susie Mize 7:39
Well, work Johnson County.
Andy Hyland 7:40
Oh yeah, sure, sure. So how do people take advantage of the service, if they want to get a little bit of help? Where do they need to go and when?
Susie Mize 7:51
We're here, and by here, I mean, the Sunset Office building where K-State Extension is located. We're here Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 4 and Saturdays from 8:30 to 12:30. We don't take appointments, so it's walk-ins, or we also have a secured lockbox, if they would rather drop their documents off, have us prepare them and then come back and pick them up, which is actually offered through K-State Extension's office, which is here 8:30 to 5, Monday through Friday for drop-offs, great. Our partnership with K-State Extension gets us this great opportunity to use their building, in the Johnson County building. And then El Centro also provides us with Spanish if we need it also with some supplies. So our partnerships with those two have made a big difference in our program.
Andy Hyland 8:40
Fantastic. Do you have the address for that building?
Susie Mize 8:43
11811 South Sunset Drive, Olathe. It's at the northwest corner of 119th and Ridgeview.
Andy Hyland 8:51
Fantastic, fantastic. So...go ahead.
Joy Miller 8:56
We do have packets at the Sunset Drive office building and on our website, which is johnson.k-state.edu. So they can either pick up a packet or print one off from the website. And they can see exactly what the requirements are, what they need to complete, and what they need to submit with that and drop-off or walk-in so that they're well prepared to have that completed.
Andy Hyland 9:25
Fantastic. And how long will you offer the service when you would...
Susie Mize 9:30
Until April 15.
Andy Hyland 9:31
April 15. That's right. That's right. Very good. And so, you know, I know reliability and trust is important when you're offering people help with income taxes. What kind of training or experience is required for the volunteers to participate in the program?
Susie Mize 9:47
IRS provides the training and requires the training. Every year, we have to recertify. There's several different levels of recertification, depending on what level of volunteerism you're doing. For example, we have some that just provide the greeters that help the people when they come in, provide them with the number and don't actually prepare, which is a different certification level than somebody who prepares the tax return or somebody that quality reviews it. IRS requires that we, after we've prepared, it has to be fully reviewed by by a second party to catch any errors and that sort of thing. So depending on what your particular position is, the certification is required every single year.
Andy Hyland 10:28
Fantastic. It seems like there's a lot of residents who qualify for this kind of help. And you gave some of the numbers before of the residents that you've served and the people who have come through the program. But this is really for both of you. What kind of comments do you hear from people who take advantage of this service?
Susie Mize 10:46
Most are extremely appreciative. A lot of people are very, very intimidated by doing income taxes and by the letters IRS. And we get a lot of elderly, you know, who are especially people who are widowed or widower and the other party was the one that always did the taxes. They're very intimidated by just the fact that they have to do, just the fact they have to do income taxes, but most of them are very much appreciative of what we do and come back year after year after year.
Andy Hyland 11:19
That's great. That's great. Anything to add there, Joy, or what you hear from folks who take advantage?
Joy Miller 11:26
No, they just comment it's a great service. We're grateful it's here. And for some, it's just, it can be like a second opinion, verifying that everything is correct. So they get to take all the time they want in answering their questions. And then so they're not rushed through the process.
Susie Mize 11:32
And then we do the e-filing for them. When they leave here, it's already e-filed and unless it rejects for some reason, they're done until next year.
Andy Hyland 12:02
That's fantastic. That's fantastic. Well, well, thanks so much to both of you. We really appreciate you coming on and helping to explain a bit about this program. We're gonna switch. You bet, you bet. We're gonna switch now to property taxes. But like I say, thanks so much for taking the time, and to be with us and explain all of this.
Joy Miller 12:23
Andy Hyland 12:24
Okay, joining me now is Amy Meeker-Berg, who is the Johnson County Clerk and Register of Deeds for Johnson County, to talk a little bit about a few programs we have for property tax relief for people who qualify. So welcome, Amy.
Amy Meeker-Berg 12:40
Hi, Andy. Thank you. Glad to be here.
Andy Hyland 12:42
Sure. Can you tell me first a little bit about your role and what you do for the county?
Amy Meeker-Berg 12:47
Sure, I'd be happy to. Andy, as the County Clerk, we're responsible for creating and maintaining our property tax ownership records, calculating the tax roll for real estate tax billing and also providing some mapping for the county. And then the other part of my job is as the Register of Deeds, we record, maintain and preserve all of those land record documents. So like deeds and mortgages and also including documents such as military discharges and other preservation documents that are statutorily required for us to to record.
Andy Hyland 13:17
Fantastic. Like I said, today, we're trying to talk some property tax relief. So we have three basic property tax relief programs that I'm hopeful you can help us out with. Those are all provided by the state. And we're going to talk a little bit about each one of those. And so let's talk about the Homestead Property Tax Refund first. So who's eligible for that program? And what what is it all about?
Amy Meeker-Berg 13:45
Great question, Andy. For Homestead Property Tax Refund, you're eligible if you're a Kansas resident all of 2022 year, for example, who owned and occupied a home. You may be eligible for a refund up to $700, if your total household income was $37,750 or less and you were 55 years or older or blind or totally and permanently disabled, had a dependent child who lived with you the entire year under the age of 18, or you're a disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran.
Andy Hyland 14:19
That's a lot of stuff to keep straight. And I imagine a lot of this is available on your website. Is that right? So the website that's available through jocogov.org?
Amy Meeker-Berg 14:22
Yes, you're correct, Andy. It's all available on our website because at this point, we have three qualifying programs that provide property tax relief to homeowners in Johnson County, and it is definitely a lot of information. So make sure you look at those and see which one you best qualify for.
Andy Hyland 14:49
Right, and how can somebody apply for that Homestead program if they wanted to?
Amy Meeker-Berg 14:55
That's a great question. So individuals can apply when filing their income tax returns. They can do that through their tax preparer or their financial advisor. Those are individuals that can assist with filing. If you're not required to file an income tax return, you could file online through the state of Kansas' website, it's www.kansas.gov. There's forms available there, or there are forms available in our office in the County Clerk's Office in the County Administration Building. If you would like to come and visit us, you're welcome to do so and get a form at the time that you're here.
Andy Hyland 15:30
Fantastic. So let's move now to the second program we wanted to talk about, the Safe Senior Tax Refund. So again, who applies for that? And how is it different than the first?
Amy Meeker-Berg 15:43
Great question. So somewhat similar, Safe Senior is a program for a Kansas resident for all of 2022. You have to have been a Kansas resident who owned and occupied a home. You're eligible for a refund of 75% of your property taxes paid if your total household income is $22,000 or less and you were 65 years or older all of 2022 and you do not have any delinquent property taxes.
Andy Hyland 16:10
Wonderful. And how does one apply for that program? Is it the same or similar to the last one do?
Amy Meeker-Berg 16:16
Yes, it is, you're correct. Any individual can apply when filing their income tax return. It's always best to talk to a tax preparer or a financial advisor if you need assistance when doing that. If you're not required to file an income tax return, you can find those forms available online through the state of Kansas' website or at your local county clerk's office.
Andy Hyland 16:35
Wonderful, wonderful. And the third one we wanted to talk about is, I understand the new one, as of last year. The governor signed House Bill 2239, which essentially provides, as I understand it, a tax freeze, by giving a refund for the amount by which the owners property tax exceeds the level it's at when the claimant became eligible for the program. So can you explain that a little bit for us and translate that into English?
Amy Meeker-Berg 17:06
Be happy to. So this is our newest program, it's the Senior or Disabled Veteran Property Tax Relief Program. It's somewhat similar to the others. But the eligibility is a little bit different. You would be eligible for a refund of the difference between the current and base year property tax amount, if your total household income is $50,000 or less. As the other programs, you have to be a Kansas resident who own and occupy a home. There's also other qualifying factors: you need to be 65 years or older all of 2022 or a disabled veteran or a surviving spouse of a disabled veteran as well.
Andy Hyland 17:47
That's great. That's great. Apply the same sort of way, or is it different than the others?
Amy Meeker-Berg 17:52
Exactly the same.
Andy Hyland 17:53
Very good. Very good. So, wonderful. So thank you so much for walking through all of that with us, Amy. Anything else that people ought to know when they're applying for these programs or finding out whether they're eligible, to help them do that?
Amy Meeker-Berg 18:08
Yes, I think one of the most important things that we run into is making sure your your appraised value of your home does not exceed $350,000. It has to be that as part of the requirement for any of the property tax relief programs is that your home value is $350,000 or less. So it's very important that that's the first thing you check to make sure that you would qualify for for one of the property tax relief programs.
Andy Hyland 18:31
Wonderful. Well, thanks so much for joining us, Amy.
Amy Meeker-Berg 18:35
You're welcome. Thank you so much.
Andy Hyland 18:36
And thanks again to all of our guests for sharing such good information today. And just to summarize a few items we covered and where to learn more. If you earn less than $60,000 in income last year, check out Johnson County K-State Research and Extension's VITA program. You can get help filing your income taxes for free. And more information is online at johnson.k-state.edu/home-family/tax-preparation.html. Also be sure you're checking out all of our forms of property tax relief available as well. We'll put a property tax relief page at jocogov.org on the Treasury, Taxation and Vehicles page. Thank you.
You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.