Free tax preparation assistance is available to anyone who makes $56,000 or less through STEP’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) at its Stuart office beginning Jan. 21.

Assistance will be available from trained volunteers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays by appointment only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the STEP site in Stuart, 4559 Wayside Road.

Taxpayers need to bring the appropriate paperwork, listed below.

VITA is an IRS sponsored program aimed at helping lower income individuals get the earned income credit they are entitled to.  STEP offers the assistance each year with the help of volunteers who are trained specifically for the job. Those who want to prepare their tax returns need to bring a picture ID, social security cards for all tax payers and dependents, and all tax related documents such as W-2. They should also bring a copy of their last year’s tax return, if possible.

People who take advantage of this service can save $200 or more in tax preparation fees, according to Janet Schofield, who is coordinating the program in Patrick County.

Last year, STEP helped residents in Franklin and Patrick counties e-file 528 federal returns, saving low-income taxpayers more than $131,000 in tax preparation fees.

With the help of volunteers,  the taxpayers received a cumulative federal refund of $661,838 or an average of $1,270 each. Almost 500 state tax returns were prepared with cumulative refunds totaling $110,673.

To make an appointment, call STEP’s Rocky Mount office at 540-483-5142.