By Roxy Caines
Tax Day is an ideal time to acknowledge the invaluable service that volunteers provide to help nearly 3 million low- and moderate-income people file their taxes and claim the tax credits they’ve earned. In 2018, volunteers at the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide programs provided skilled tax preparation and other valuable services for lower-income households at 9,527 sites across the country.
Each year, some 90,000 people volunteer to file tax returns and help run free tax preparation sites. Starting in January, they go through rigorous tax law training to pass an annual certification. In their experience, volunteers range from new preparers to those with 35 years under their belts. What keeps people returning to volunteer? For many, free tax preparation is a rewarding way to give back to their community.
Free tax program volunteers help strengthen local communities and provide millions of households with peace of mind in four ways. They help people:
1. Save on tax preparation fees. Volunteers save taxpayers an average of nearly $300 in tax preparation fees, enabling them to better take care of themselves and their families.
2. Claim eligible tax credits. Volunteers receive special training on the rules to claim refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). These tax credits reward hard work and help keep children healthy, improve kids’ school performance, reduce poverty, and increase earnings for the next generation, research shows.
3. Complete tax returns accurately. Free tax preparation programs have an accuracy rate of over 90 percent, the highest in the industry. The training that VITA and Tax-Aide volunteers undergo helps prevent the IRS from holding up tax returns for verification and reduces the time that taxpayers spend to get tax filing mistakes corrected.
4. Connect to other services. Many VITA sites offer other needed program assistance, linking taxpayers to public benefits like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and health insurance and financial resources like bank accounts and financial coaching. Free tax preparation programs help ensure that taxpayers receive all the benefits for which they’re eligible, reducing household financial stress.
From tax preparers and greeters to site coordinators and quality reviewers, all free tax filing site volunteers and staff deserve a big thank you.