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Volunteers Make Tax Time Less Taxing

by Greg Tucker

The IRS filing deadline is less than two months away, reviving a task that ranks somewhere near having a root canal for a lot of Americans. However, there are many national service members who are ready and willing to tackle the job, free of charge, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Who says accountants should have all the fun?

A 1040 tax return. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John Easterling/Released)

The VITA program provides free tax preparation assistance for people who make $51,000 or less, and can generally be found at community centers, libraries, schools, or other convenient locations during this time of year. These IRS-certified volunteers can ensure that their clients claim all the deductions and credits for which they qualify, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, or Credit for the Elderly or Disabled.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) supports programs across the nation that provides volunteers and national service members dedicated to this work. These efforts have helped thousands save money on preparation fees and claim credits that can make a big difference for families struggling to make ends meet.

  • In 2011, 32 RSVP volunteers with the WestArk RSVP Community Outreach program in Fort Smith, AR, provided tax preparation assistance to families with annual incomes under $49,000 and to taxpayers over age 60. The free tax preparation and electronic filing service offered at the RSVP center helped more than 2,000 families receive nearly $2.5 million in refunds. Federal returns were prepared for 2,007 families and an additional 2,257 state returns were filed.
  • The East Bay RSVP leads the VITA program in Rhode Island, providing no-cost tax assistance and creating increased access to tax credits. The work of eight volunteers at the site resulted in more than $1.4 million in refunds returned to underserved communities in 2011.
  • The Volunteer Empowerment AmeriCorps VISTA operational grant serves as a large intermediary project for human services agencies across Utah. Nineteen VISTA members serve at a variety of agencies, mostly in rural areas, engaging in the creation and expansion of programs that help those in low-income, underserved communities, including the VITA program.
  • The United Way of Greenville County AmeriCorps program in South Carolina placed members with the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Thanks to the added capacity of AmeriCorps members, Greenville and Pickens counties recovered more than $4 million in refunds to the community during the 2011 tax season, more than the combined sum of the program's previous three years before the AmeriCorps members arrived.

Tax season is never fun, but thanks to the assistance of national service members like these, it can be a little bit easier for families and seniors who could use some help with their returns.

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