5 On Your Side

VITA programs provide free tax preparation

Posted February 4, 2009 6:04 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— As W2 forms are being mailed out, there is a free service for low- and moderate-income taxpayers who want help to properly prepare and file federal returns. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is available to anyone making less than $42,000 a year.

Ronnie Massey learned about VITA this year when he saw a banner at the State Employees Credit Union (SECU). The financial institution is one of more than 250 VITA sites across the state that offer the service.

“The first thing I thought was 'Man, I've finally got a tax preparer I can afford,'" Massey said.

“For years, most of my state refund tax or whatever came back to paying the tax preparer. And I looked, and I was like, free? I can do free.”

The Internal Revenue Service-funded VITA program has been around for more than 30 years.

“This saves the cost of the return preparation fee, the transmission fee and the refund anticipation loan or whatever name it goes by, (which) is something that can be avoided completely, so they do get all the credit and all the money they're entitled too,” said Roger Burton, with the IRS.

People within the income guidelines who need their tax refunds quickly don't need to pay fees. Most sites file returns electronically, so refunds are sent within two weeks.

Tax preparer Jason Evans is an SECU employee. The IRS trained him specifically for the VITA program, which he sees as a great service.

“Just seeing the looks on their faces when they realize how much they're getting back and that this is actually free and actually easy to do ... it's a great feeling,” Evans said.

Massey said he was thrilled his taxes are done this year. The process was stress-free and fee-free.

“No disrespect meant to any other preparer, but this is just really neat being able to go to a bank and have them offer this service. I mean, wow,” Massey said.

You need to make an appointment to get help through the VITA program. Also, don't wait to the last minute, the closer to April 15, the harder it will be to get an appointment.