Preparing tax returns can be stressful, but for a special group of people, tax season is a joyful time of year. Free tax-preparation programs for eligible people rely on volunteers from January through “Tax Day” to help maximize tax benefits and incentives for families who could use a boost.
United Way of the Piedmont in Spartanburg, South Carolina, shared this inspiring news report featuring a taxpayer and volunteer preparer. And here’s what a tax preparation volunteer with United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut said about why the woman he helped cried “tears of joy,” and what being a volunteer has meant to him:
She was now going to be able to pay down her debt, save for the future and be able to afford some extras in life that at one point seemed impossible. When she walked in earlier that day, this was something she would never have expected. She walked out a different person now in a position to better provide for her family. Spending time volunteering for VITA has made me a different person too. I can see first-hand what kind of impact this has on a person’s life. It’s truly priceless. Giving is easy, but as a VITA volunteer, I really experience being part of how our community comes together to make a difference in the lives of others.
In more than 250 communities across the U.S., United Way provides opportunities for volunteers to be trained and certified to prepare basic tax returns through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs. In 2013, for example, more than 250 volunteers with United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut assisted nearly 9,400 taxpayers, resulting in more than $26.4 million in state and federal refunds and credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit. United Way of King County has recruited more than 950 volunteers who are helping people with their taxes at 19 sites in the Seattle area this year. This United Way served nearly 15,000 clients and brought in over $22 million in tax refunds in 2013.
United Way of Palm Beach County has returned $137 million to the community in 11 years of running the program. Last year, volunteers prepared almost 9,000 tax returns. Here’s what one of them had to say about the experience:
I work full time right across the street from the [VITA] site and walk over after work at 5:00 pm and work until 7:30 pm. I truly enjoy interacting with members of the community and assisting them through tax return preparation. The site coordinator is very knowledgeable and I learned a great deal from him. When I arrive home at night after volunteering, I reflect for a moment on the community members I had the privilege of helping that evening. I am not sure how to put that feeling in to words, but it makes me look forward to the next opportunity to do it again.
In addition to these and hundreds of other United Way-led tax-preparation programs, as an added service, individuals with simple returns and a 2013 household income of $58,000 or less can use MyFreeTaxes to file their returns online easily, securely and for free. MyFreeTaxes is a national program presented by United Way, Goodwill Industries, and the National Disability Institute, and is sponsored by the Walmart Foundation.
Whether you filed your tax return long ago or will mail it in on April 15, you can start looking forward to tax season next year. I hope you’ll learn more about the free tax preparation programs in your area, volunteer with United Way and turn your 2015 tax season into a joyful time of year.