Susan Robinson is a volunteer through United Way's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).
As a volunteer tax preparer I am spending my holidays brushing up on tax law and filing requirements so I can help working families file their taxes and receive the hard earned credits that they deserve. I learned about this opportunity a few years ago as a volunteer at United Way. I had recently retired and was looking for a way I could give back to the community. I found out that United Way recruits and trains volunteers for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, VITA. Although not a tax expert I am at ease in front of a computer and a quick learner.
Susan Robinson helps a local resident file her taxes
Once trained (and certified by the IRS) VITA volunteers fan out into the community to over 33 community sites, including churches, schools, recreation centers, to prepare taxes for hard working families. We do this to both save the filing costs for those unable to afford it ($200-$300 average cost) and to make sure all filers claim the credits they deserve. Two credits that are often missed by deserving families are the Earned Income Tax Credit, EITC and the Child Tax Credit, CTC. The EITC approved by Congress in 1975 helps to offset social security taxes and provides an incentive to work. The CTC, enacted in 1997 provides a per child benefit for families to help offset the costs of raising a family. Both credits enable families to make ends meet and increase their financial stability. As an economist, I know these are among the most efficient ways to provide support.
Last year, in our tristate area over 700 volunteer preparers from VITA, AARP and Ohio Benefit Bank helped 19,793 families file returns resulting in $23.7 million dollars returned to the community. The average refund per filer was $1,200, quite a savings for a hard working family! I work at a number of our VITA sites over the tax season and can attest to the importance of this service. I have seen first hand how lives are transformed through these credits. Money received by families typically helps them to pay down debt, buy groceries, pay for medical bills or save for the future. One family I helped was unaware of the EITC, which saved them hundreds of dollars in taxes.
Thanks to the advocacy of United Way and other organizations, improvements to the EITC and CTC were just made permanent parts of the tax code. This is a great victory for working families, and gives us a lot to celebrate.
For those of you looking for a rewarding way to give back I encourage you to volunteer with VITA. Trainings are scheduled in January, and tax season runs January 19-April 18. Go to www.makeworkpay.com/volunteer to find out how.