The deadline to file federal income taxes is Tuesday. Many filers will use a paid preparation service on top of having to pay their taxes. But if you qualify for something the IRS calls the “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance” program or VITA, you can get them done for free.
Gordon Hill, 80, is retired, so he and his wife Patricia like to travel when they can afford to.
“Yeah, we travel,” Hill said. “We like to go to antique shops.”
Thanks to the free income tax prep service that the Hills are getting, they have a little money to go on a trip.
“The help is very nice here,” Hill said. “We’ve enjoyed them over the past years.”
The Hills had their taxes prepared by a volunteer tax assistant in a computer room at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield. Patricia Hill called 2-1-1 to set-up the appointment. By dialing 2-1-1, Connecticut residents can get connected to health and human services, and that includes Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. The Hills were sent to a non-profit called the Village.
“It’s free tax preparation services for individuals that are low-to-moderate income,” said Laura O’Keefe, the Village’s director of family financial stability. “It’s a question between potentially not preparing your tax return because you’re so intimidated by it and potentially missing out on credits and refunds that you may otherwise be eligible for.”
There were seven volunteers that were preparing taxes at the session the Hills took part in. Cheryl Chever was one of them. Chever’s from Windsor and has been a VITA volunteer for 12 years.
“I got tired of hearing about how much [filers] were paying for H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt to get their taxes done,” Chever said. “A lot of people who live in Enfield work in Mass. so if you go to those people [to get your taxes done] they have to pay extra to do the Mass. tax.”
The volunteers that make up the VITA program have to complete an initial 14-hour course to get the gig. Then every year, they’re asked to keep up-to-date with the latest tax laws and re-certify.
About 20 miles south from Enfield, Felicia Edwards got her tax return done for free at a Community Renewal Team office in Hartford. She’s a single mother from East Hartford who works in the claims department at Cigna. Edwards said she went the VITA route this year because she was tired of paying to get them done. She said she once paid $225 to have her taxes filed at H&R Block.
“That’s like two bills for me,” Edwards said. “That’s a lot of money [for a] single parent. A lot of money. And why—when I don’t get much back anyway?”
Jim Pastana works for the CRT. He prepped Edwards’ return. He hopes that when people walk away from their appointment, they not only have money in their pocket, but maybe he can get the person sitting across from him some more help-- with other social services like energy assistance or child care. By meeting with these filers and asking them relevant income information, these volunteers hope they can essentially become case managers.
“The major thing is you have low income working families, who are eligible for the earned income tax credit, have a place to come that’s free. 80 percent of the people come back to this site every year so there’s a very high level of satisfaction,” Pastana said.
Households with adjusted gross income of $54,000 or less are eligible for free tax prep under the VITA program.