By Janne Huang
Tax Day is the perfect time to celebrate the work of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide programs. Both programs provide free tax preparation services to low-income households through dedicated IRS-certified tax volunteers. On average, each volunteer prepares 40 tax returns, resulting in about $45,000 in tax refunds to their local community.
This tax season has been particularly trying for many tax sites and their volunteers. Volunteers had to learn new tax software, which complicated training and extended the time spent on each return.
The tax deal reached at the end of 2015 made expansions to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the low-income portion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) permanent, but it also changed the refund timeline and affected Individual Tax Identification numbers. As part of the legislation, beginning this year, the IRS had to hold returns claiming the EITC and low-income part of the CTC through at least February 15, to verify the information on the returns and combat false refund claims and identity theft.
In addition to these new rules, changing immigration policy has created uncertainty for many immigrants, leading some undocumented immigrants to delay tax filing for fear of deportation.
These changes underscore the importance of VITA and Tax-Aide sites’ availability as a trusted resource for tax and financial information. Although the main focus of free tax preparation is to help low-income Americans file their taxes and maximize their refund, many sites provide much more, connecting clients to resources like bank accounts, financial education classes, and health insurance.
To the dedicated volunteers and staff who make these services possible, thank you!