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For local tax pros, it's almost game time.

"We're getting ready for our peak season," said Tim Chaffin, a Georgia-based regional director for H&R Block. "All of our 10,000 offices across the country are operating 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and they're about to go to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m."

The tax-prep company has 19 offices in the Chattanooga area. Most of the time, only four of those offices keep regular daily office hours. For the next few months, though, they'll all stay open all day — and even the daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours can be extended, Chaffin said.

"We will serve our clients before and after those hours based on their needs," he said. "We have some clients that can't come in at 9 and they come in at 8. Some clients don't get off work until late at night."

More than half of people seek the help of a professional at tax time, according to IRS data. In 2019, about 71 million people relied on a tax pro, while about 56 million did their taxes themselves.

Resources for navigating this taxing time run the gamut, from paid services like H&R Block to the volunteer-based, IRS sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, which serves people with a household income under $54,000 a year.

In 2019, the VITA program served 13,500 people in the Chattanooga area who received $4.4 million in refunds.

The IRS expects more than 150 million tax returns for 2019, the vast majority coming before the April 15 tax deadline. The percentage of people filing electronically has risen steadily, and about 90% of returns are filed electronically. In 2010, about 70% of 141 million returns were filed electronically, according to eFile.com, an authorized IRS e-file provider.

Taxpayers with incomes of less than $69,000 a year can use IRS Free File through Oct. 15. The public-private partnership between the IRS and Free File Inc., a group of tax software providers, makes their Free File products available at IRS.gov/freefile.

"The IRS reminds taxpayers that there are many ways to get help," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "We've made improvements to the Free File program, and filing electronically with direct deposit remains the best way to speed refunds and minimize errors."

H&R Block has evolved its services as people have trended toward seeking more online services, Chaffin said. Tax Pro Review allows clients to get a stamp of approval from a tax expert who double-checks their work. Tax Pro Go allows people to work remotely with a tax pro, uploading their documents to a secure site. Online assist provides a chat function for people who need real-time advice while they crunch the numbers.

"We have a whole suite of products based on their needs," Chaffin said. "We've seen this evolution."

The company also offers Refund Advance, a no-interest, no-fee loan of up to $3,500 that clients repay with their tax refund.

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

 

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