United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County offers free, in-person tax filing services until April 13

To help Santa Barbara County residents file their taxes and get tax credits they’re eligible for, United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County teams up each year with Cal Poly and Allan Hancock College to host free, in-person tax filing. 

click to enlarge United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County offers free, in-person tax filing services until April 13
File photo by Taylor O’Connor
FREE AND IN-PERSON: After making an appointment with United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley residents can go to Allan Hancock College (pictured) to receive free help with filing their personal income taxes.

The program launched about 18 years ago with United Way helping file taxes in Lompoc, and later moving to Hancock to reach more Santa Maria Valley residents, said Cary Gray, United Way’s site coordinator for both the Hancock and Oceano operations.

“The IRS estimates for each return we do it’s about $300 per family, and so far we’ve saved, in just savings to families, we’ve saved almost a quarter million dollars with the 800 people we’ve served so far,” he said. “That’s 800 people who can use that money for their families, car payment, whatever.” 

With the April 15 IRS tax filing deadline approaching, United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County will hold its final tax assistance services on March 30 and April 13 by appointment only, Gray said. Residents coming in will fill out a three-page intake form, and volunteers will check their W-2 and 1099 tax forms and identify potential returns. 

“We get them out in an hour and 15 minutes rather than dropping them off at another tax preparer and coming back in a few days,” Gray said, adding that preparers typically charge about $300 for a basic family return.

The people partnering with the United Way to do tax preparation participate in a two-week tax law training seminar followed by an eight-hour IRS software training before the seven weeks of tax season. Trained, graduating Cal Poly accounting students go to Hancock to volunteer and help people file their tax returns, and people with higher levels of expertise do a final look to make sure everything is correct before filing, Gray explained. 

“Some people can come and not do taxes at all. We still need intake people to check people in, check to make sure they have their paperwork, and the others just do the taxes,” he said. 

Alongside tax returns, United Way helps residents who don’t have a Social Security number but still pay taxes to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which is difficult to find throughout the region but required if people want to see any tax returns, he said. The free ITIN assistance saves people between $300 to $500 in legal fees. 

“We have a CAA [Certifying Accepting Agent] who’s authorized by the IRS to examine documents, authenticate them, and that way people don’t have to send their passports or birth certificates or consular card, and that’s a really great service because they still have their identification, and the IRS knows it’s correct,” he said. 

While the in-person operation ends April 13, the United Way will continue to help community members through myfreetaxes.org all year long and help with the free ITIN applications, Gray said. 

“People love coming in and helping local [residents] and love telling families that they are getting $5,000, $6,000, or $7,000 back in tax returns. It makes you feel like you are doing something really good for the community,” he said. 

Visit myfreetaxes.org to set up an appointment with the United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County. 


• The Lompoc Public Library system encourages everyone to visit the local libraries during National Library Week, April 7 to 13, to explore the services the library has to offer. The Lompoc Library offers a wide array of programs, classes, and resources for all ages at the main branch, the Village Library, and the Charlotte’s Web Bookmobile. In addition, libraries play a pivotal role in economic development by providing resources and support for job seekers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses—with Lompoc providing services like computer help, internet access, and databases, plus connections to other local resources. Children and teens can participate in reading challenges and hands-on activities like magic shows and traveling animal exhibits. Beyond books, the Lompoc Library offers day passes to local museums and state parks, which can be checked out at lom.blackgold.org.

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].

Comments (0)
Add a Comment