Celebrating 50 Years of VITA

By Roxy Caines

*Cross-posted from Off the Charts

As we recognize the fourth annual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Awareness Day today, we also celebrate 50 years of VITA. This IRS-sponsored program trains volunteers to help millions of low- and moderate-income people file their taxes by providing accurate, free, and trustworthy tax preparation assistance. VITA sites are located across the country at community settings like libraries, community organizations, churches, and universities.

VITA fulfills four critical tax preparation needs:

  1. Affordability. VITA sites offer free tax preparation to people who make less than $55,000, enabling them to keep more of their money to care for their families — which is especially significant when the average tax preparation cost is nearly $300.
  2. Accessibility. VITA is in communities across the country. Many sites remove barriers to tax filing by offering interpreters, child care, day and evening hours, and physical accommodations for people with disabilities.
  3. Quality. The IRS must certify VITA’s tax preparers each year before they can file any tax returns. In addition, all tax returns are reviewed by at least one other preparer before they’re submitted, which helps maintain high accuracy rates.
  4. Education. Many VITA sites connect clients to other resources like bank accounts or financial education and coaching. Volunteers explain the tax filing process to help taxpayers understand their tax returns and tax filing responsibilities. This year, VITA sites are also helping taxpayers navigate changes under the 2017 tax law so that they understand why their potential tax refund may look different.

Beyond helping taxpayers get the most out of their tax refund and claim tax credits for which they may be eligible, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, VITA helps build local economies. That’s because people tend to use tax refunds and the money they save on tax preparation to pay bills and support local businesses. Check out VITA’s impact in your state.

In celebrating VITA Awareness Day and everyone in the VITA family — from site coordinators, tax preparers, intake specialists, and greeters, to host organizations, outreach coalitions, and clients — we also acknowledge the need to keep strengthening this underfunded program so that it can expand its impact.

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