P.E.I. volunteer who needed help with tax return now helps others at free clinics

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P.E.I. volunteer who needed help with tax return now helps others at free clinics

Volunteers are the backbone of the Canada Revenue Agency's free sessions for low-income Islanders who need help completing their tax returns.

Single people with incomes up to $30,000 are eligible for the service, as well as with higher-incomes couples or those with dependents.

"I'm not sure I could do it myself," said Jack Slade, who dropped by the Confederation Centre Thursday night for help with his tax return. 

Volunteer Rachel Grey had Slade's taxes done in less than an hour. 

"These guys seem to make it simple... it takes a lot of pressure away from you," Slade said. 

'Good thing to help'

"I think it's a good thing to help other people, to give back your blessings," said Grey with a big, warm smile. She's been volunteering to do others' taxes with the program for five years. 

Grey, who speaks three languages and is studying another, has a science and math degree from Bulacan State University in the Philippines and has "liked numbers since I was in grade school."

Grey works as a licensed practical nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital by day. Originally from the Philippines, she immigrated to P.E.I. 11 years ago.

"I think it's good that there's some organization they can turn to," she said of the many immigrants she's helped.

Giving back

When she arrived on P.E.I., she herself needed help with her taxes and used the program, she reveals.

"So I promised myself I will do the same."

The clinics run Mondays and Tuesdays in Charlottetown, Feb. 27 until April 25, and in Summerside on Thursdays from March 2 to April 27. The clinics operate by appointment, so call 902-566-9602 for an appointment in Charlottetown or 1-855-888-6837 for one in Summerside. There's also a drop-in clinic Thursday evenings 5:30 to 8 p,m. at the Confederation Centre public library.

Here's a list of Grey's top tax tips, whether you're tackling the chore or getting help.

1. Claim everything you can

"Sometimes they are forgetting the things they can claim, because they have not enough knowledge of the tax system," Grey said. 

Some medical expenses, tuition, and public transit for work and school can often be claimed. 

2. Keep organized through the year

"Some people don't bring the documents," Grey said. "They're not bringing all the papers we need."

Grey suggests collecting anything that may be tax-related in a central spot throughout the year so it will be at hand come tax time. 

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help

Some people are embarrassed to come to the clinics, Grey said, because they are low-income or don't want to admit they need help — perhaps lacking basic literacy skills.

But there's no judgement at the clinics — just help, Grey said. 

When people find out the service is free, they are grateful. "Lots of people like free!" Grey laughs. 

4. File annually

You should file a return, regardless of whether you have income to report, adds volunteer Tanya O'Brien, a chartered accountant by trade.

"Because it triggers other payments you're eligible for," O'Brien said. "People may be missing out on getting their HST rebate because they haven't filed a tax return." An HST rebate can be $500 per year — nothing to sniff at.

"People are always afraid they're going to file a tax return and they're going to owe a whole lot of money, but in many instances... they are going to get extra money back. So I think it is worthwhile," O'Brien added. 

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