Tax season is upon us, and for low- and moderate-income filers, free help is at hand.
VITA sites will spring up beginning this week at libraries, community centers and schools around the state. VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and it’s just what it sounds like: volunteer preparers, trained by the IRS, who will do your taxes on the spot -- for free.
“It’s your money, you earned it, you deserve to keep it,” said Takima Robinson, who is in charge of the VITA program for the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “Because we have that direct access to the IRS and we get the training on the tax law and the different tax credits, we’re able to ensure that these taxpayers get the credit that they’re eligible for.”
In fact, she says it’s very common for volunteers to spot new ways to help filers lower their tax liability that they were unaware of.
“There’s so many times people have come in and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about the child tax credit,’ or earned income tax credit, or even the education credit,” she explained. “People are going to school and not knowing they can get a credit for that.”
In fact, at the 60 sites Robinson coordinated last year, volunteers identified $28 million in refunds for 20,000 filers. And they estimate that’s help that could have cost $3 million in fees from for-profit preparation services. CAHS joins the United Way and other nonprofit agencies in running sites around the state.
Not everyone can use the VITA service. You need to earn below a certain threshold to qualify for help. For a filer with dependents, that threshold is $56,000 a year.
But only about 1% of taxpayers who are eligible actually use the service.
“So we need to get the word out, but in order to get the word out we also have to have the preparers to do the taxes,” said Robinson. Last year, her sites tapped the services of 800 volunteer preparers. The more they have stepping up, she says, the more taxpayers they can help.
If you would like to find a VITA site near you, go to the IRS website or call 211.