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With or without help, many file taxes early

April 14, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

The January day that Cindy Foster's W-2s arrived in the mail was the same day the Hagerstown resident finished her federal and state tax returns.

"Then it's out in the mail the very next day," Foster said.

The result was she got her Maryland tax refund 10 days later and her federal refund in three weeks and four days, said Foster, 39.

Foster, who completed her tax forms on her own, has become part of the minority in the last two years, Internal Revenue Service spokesman Sam Serio said.

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More and more people are choosing to use paid tax preparers rather than tackle the tax forms themselves, Serio said.

Nicole Cunningham, 21, of Hagerstown, goes to Jackson Hewitt Tax Service to have her taxes filed electronically because she gets her refund faster that way.

"It's a lot easier when they've got it on computer," Cunningham said.

She's already paid bills with her refund.

Beth and Jay Ross had someone else do their taxes this year because the IRAs and certificates of deposit were making it complicated, said Jay Ross, 32, of Martinsburg, W.Va. The couple had their taxes done the week they got their W-2s so they could pay the mortgage and bills from last Christmas, said Beth Ross, 24.

"We've already got it back and spent it," she said.

James Coleman, 30, of Hagerstown, had an accountant file his family's tax returns in January, a little earlier than they usually have it done.

"I just want to get it out of the way," Coleman said.

He also wants to get it done right, so he hired a pro.

"The more you make, the more complicated it gets and (I) want to make sure I get the deductions done right," Coleman said.

Coleman's family has two incomes with two children.

The refund the Colemans received the second week of February will be applied to bills, with the remainder going into their savings, he said. That's another plus.

"The earlier you do it, the sooner you get it back," he said.

Bob Helfrick hired an accountant because he had more than one person's taxes to do this year so it was getting complicated.

"Already done my taxes. Haven't gotten my refund yet, and it's going in savings," said Helfrick, 56, of State Line, Pa.

Even Fred K. Teeter Jr., president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, hires an accountant to help with his family's tax returns.

" 'Cause I'm mathematically challenged," Teeter joked.

The couple's returns also got more complicated because Teeter's wife started her own business, he said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner does his own taxes. He had a part-time job with H&R Block preparing taxes in the 1960s after he had done taxes for some farming friends.

Breichner said he does his own taxes because it's important for people to understand taxes and why people pay what they pay.

Many people don't do their own taxes because they are afraid of the IRS, Breichner said.

"I think it's important to understand the tax system. And the better you understand it, the better you feel about it," Breichner said.

Cindy Foster said she isn't intimidated by tax forms because they are self-explanatory and she saw her mother do her own tax returns for years.

"Why would you not just take the time to sit down?" instead of paying someone else to do it, Foster asked.

Foster has some background with numbers. She used to be a sales assistant with Solomon Smith Barney.

Banker Tim Johnston said he does his own taxes as well.

Johnston, 39, of Hagerstown, hadn't filed his tax returns as of April 2 "because I owe every year."

Paying off debt


Several people interviewed said they would use their refunds to pay off debt.

That's also true for Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell, who often proposes ways to reduce the county's debt.

"I expect a refund and I can tell you that I apply it toward payment of my mortgage," Wivell said.

Wivell fills out his own tax forms and does taxes for friends and family as well.

Harriet Molitoris, 55, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said her husband, who gets tips from a friend who is a certified public accountant, completes the couple's tax returns.

Because they knew they were getting a refund this year, they filed their returns early, Molitoris said. They got their refund via direct deposit in March.

"We're paying off a loan to lighten the load," Molitoris said.

William Hoop Sr., 62, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said he had done his taxes, but he hadn't mailed them as of April 2 because he owes money.

Christina Jarcy, 18, of Boonsboro, thinks she will get a refund, but she's not sure because she hadn't completed her tax returns yet.

While this is her first year doing taxes, and possibly her first year getting a refund, Jarcy hasn't made any plans for the money.

"You never really know how much taxes you're going to get back so you don't want to make plans," Jarcy said.

Sam Tubaugh, 74, of Hagerstown, said he might use his refund to pay an unexpected bill.

Otherwise, he may use it for a trip, Tubaugh said.

Tubaugh said he usually waits until March to do his taxes, but this year he had them done by the first week in February.

"My girlfriend told me to get busy," he said.

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