Tax preparation assistance for lower-income residents in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties is again being made available.

Households that earned up to $49,000 in 2010 can qualify to receive free tax preparation assistance through the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! program.

Volunteer tax preparers are IRS certified, and experts in ensuring clients claim all tax credits they are eligible to receive including the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is the nation's largest benefit program for working families and can boost the annual income of low-wage workers by as much as 10 percent as a wage supplement.

Sally Hansen, the program's coordinator said, “EarnIt! KeepIt! SaveIt! plays an important role in helping to increase the income of our community members who need it most to make ends meet. It also helps stimulate the local economy, which is critical at this time."

During the 2010 tax season, EarnIt! KeepIt! SaveIt! volunteers helped file more than 750 tax returns and claimed $1.3 million in total refunds in the three-county region. In turn, a large portion of the refunds were spent in the local community, helping to generate more income through local sales and jobs, Ms. Hansen said. This year, approximately 125 volunteers will help prepare tax returns at over 20 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites within the three counties.

More than 15 local community partners are part of the EKS coalition including United Way of the Wine Country, Community Action Partnership Sonoma County, FIRST 5 Mendocino, North Coast Opportunities and Family Resource Center of Lake County.

For more information regarding the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! program or for a list of VITA sites, visit www.unitedwaywinecountry.org/eitc

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Ghirardo CPA of Novato and Scott Porter CPA of Petaluma announced their merger earlier this month.

Scott Porter, Barbara Smith and Leslie Davidson joined Ghirardo and will operate under the Ghirardo name.

Ghirardo CPA is the largest independent Marin County CPA firm with 39 employees in two offices.

“The common vision of the two ownership teams allows both offices to serve closely-held business and individual clients throughout the North Bay from one shared team of highly trained CPAs and MBAs,” Ghirardo said of the merger.

Ghirardo CPA was founded in 1990 by Jerry and Steve Ghirardo, continuing a legacy of accounting service started by their father 30 years ago. Greta Hoversten joined as a shareholder in 2008.

Scott Porter, CPA, has been practicing public accounting for over 20 years. His practice is in its 10th year of serving individual clients and small business with tax, accounting and consulting services from Petaluma

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Submit items for this column to Jenna V. Loceff at jloceff@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4259 or fax 707-521-5292.