By Ariadne Aberin
For the second year running, the Internal Revenue Service is sponsoring a program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA for short.
VITA is a free tax service offered to low-income families, specifically those who make $48,000 or less annually.
Volunteers for VITA help prepare the families’ income tax returns. The program operates on a first-come, first-served basis and those who plan on receiving help from VITA must have all their tax forms, personal identification and Social Security card available.
VITA is not the only financial program available to Waco residents. Heart of Texas Goodwill is working with banks around Central Texas to provide services for setting up savings and checking accounts, according to the Central Texas VITA Coalition.
“VITA is in collaboration with the IRS,” Shannon Kendrick, the public relations specialist who heads the tax assistance program, said. “VITA is part of a coalition with United Way of Temple, Heart of Texas Goodwill and Belton Housing Authority.”
Kendrick said VITA operates five sites in the Central Texas Area. The sites include Belton Housing Authority, Goodwill Learning Center in Waco, Killeen, and Temple and Rose Hall in Temple. An additional VITA site has been added as well — AJ Moore Academy Magnet School.
Kendrick said the recruitment process for volunteers consists of placing announcements on volunteer websites and word of mouth. She also said anybody willing to work with VITA is eligible to volunteer.
“It’s something you can learn,” Kendrick said. “A lot of people from Extraco Banks are actually volunteering at our sites.”
Kendrick said anyone wanting to volunteer would have to go through IRS training and pass all the tests required to be a tax preparer.
“[The training] is pretty lengthy, and it’s a lot of material that’s on the IRS website,” Kendrick said. “All the information and the packets with the practice problems and practice tests — we have all of those here at Goodwill that we can give people so they can go through the training in their spare time online. We can give them the test and then they can volunteer.”
According to the VITA website, in 2010, the coalition processed 504 tax returns, resulting in $600,000 returned to the community.
“We’re doing that for free, and we’re not charging people to do their tax returns,” Kendrick said.
The Central Texas VITA Coalition, says it has brought almost $700,000 back into the economy to date through federal refunds.
“This is a great opportunity for lower-income families,” Daniel Nisley, Heart of Texas Goodwill CEO, said in a Central Texas VITA Coalition press release. “The VITA program utilizes local volunteers who are giving up their time to help out the community.”
Kendrick said the program helps people go to work and also helps make sure they have financial literacy.
“One thing to help them is to do their taxes and to get them to stay away from the places that do the refund anticipation loans,” Kendrick said. “This is a free service that we’re offering to the public so that people don’t get ripped off when they’re getting their taxes done.”
Kendrick said VITA not only operates in Central Texas; it has sites all over the United States. VITA will be offering free income tax preparation services throughout tax season.
For more information, visit the Central Texas Coalition website at www.CenTexVITA.org.