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Help with Pennsylvania tax, rent rebates is free

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Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010

The elderly and the disabled don't need to pay anyone to get potentially hundreds of dollars back on their property taxes or rent — but they do need to act soon.

State officials are aware of mailings offering to help residents apply for the Pennsylvania Tax and Rent Rebate program for a $39 "processing fee."

That offer comes from the so-called "Senior Advisory Center."

The mailings carry a Harrisburg address, but appear to have been mailed from California.

While there's nothing illegal about the solicitation, it is completely unnecessary, as forms and help filling them out are easily available for free from many places, said Elizabeth Brassell, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

"It's an unfortunate situation," Brassell said. "A lot of people can use that $39 for other things."

The program provides rent rebates of up to $975 to residents who are age 65 and older, widows or widowers age 50 and older, and people with disabilities age 18 and older.

Annual income limits are $35,000 for homeowners, $15,000 for renters. Both may exclude half of their annual Social Security incomes.

The deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

Rebate amounts vary depending on annual household income. The average rebate is about $466, Brassell said.

Jean Stull, a Leechburg certified public accountant, said that within the past week she had received calls from three of her elderly tax clients who had received the "Senior Advisory Center" mailings.

"As the property tax rebate program is a legitimate program in Pennsylvania, this outfit is confusing senior citizens," she said. "It may not be illegal, but I agree it is unnecessary."

For her clients, Stull said she included applying for the rebate with their taxes, and doesn't charge for it.

Attorney General Tom Corbett, the governor-elect, has issued warnings urging seniors to be wary of mailings and other unsolicited offers attempting to charge a fee for information about the rebate program.

An extension of the program deadline from June 30 to the end of the year resulted in a second wave of offers.

"Many businesses out there are more than happy to charge you a fee to do something you might be able to do yourself," said attorney general spokesman Nils Frederiksen.

By filling out such forms themselves, residents save money and keep their personal information secure, Frederiksen said.

Consumers should check directly with official agencies to find out if applications or other information can be obtained free-of-charge, Corbett said.

"Our general advice is to go directly to the source," Frederiksen said. "There is no state agency that we're aware of in Pennsylvania and no federal agency we're aware of that will require paying a fee to apply for an official program."

Additional Information:

What to do

The Pennsylvania Tax and Rent Rebate program benefits eligible state residents age 65 and older, widows and widowers age 50 and older, and people with disabilities age 18 and older who meet income requirements. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

Forms and help filling them out are available from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and Revenue district offices, which are listed in the government section of local phone books; local Area Agencies on Aging; senior centers and state legislators' offices.

Forms and instructions are available from the Department of Revenue online here or here . The property tax and rent rebate unit can be reached by phone at 888-222-9190.

Those with questions or concerns about suspicious mailings or offers can contact the Pennsylvania Attorney General's consumer protection hot line at 800-441-2555.

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