United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program opens, expects delays from IRS
United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program will open this month with new options for free tax preparation services designed to safeguard the health of clients and volunteers.
Now in its 15th year, United Way’s VITA program is ramping up online options to reduce the need for in-person appointments during the pandemic. This year, clients have four free options from which to choose:
Drop Off, Pick Up
Clients arrive to their appointment, complete intake forms, and provide needed documents in person. Once the return is received, the client is scheduled to pick up their return on another day. Preparation is completed by an IRS-certified volunteer between the two appointments. Call 211 or visit www.unitedwaygc.org/vita to schedule an appointment.
In Person, Video Chat
Upon arrival, clients are assigned a private room and their paperwork is taken to an IRS-certified volunteer in another private room. Clients and volunteers interact via video monitors while the return is being prepared. The completed return is printed and given to the client along with their tax documents. Call 211 or visit www.unitedwaygc.org/vita to schedule an appointment.
In partnership with CodeForAmerica, this 100 percent virtual option is available for free online. To get started, visit GetYourRefund.org/uwgc, answer a series of questions, upload your tax documents, and schedule a call with an IRS-certified tax preparer to complete your return.
Clients can complete their own returns at myfreetaxes.com. Online chat and support lines are available for clients.
“Making sure we can continue to provide this critical service to our community while keeping our clients and volunteers safe is our top priority for the 2021 tax season,” said Deborah McKetty, United Way senior vice president for Community impact. “With the delays in filing and refunds likely to also experience delays, families are at risk of being more susceptible to predatory tax services that offer up-front, early payments but charge high fees in the later repayment period. By filing with a free service and waiting for the refund, individuals and families can save more money and receive their full refund.”
Sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), VITA provides free income tax preparation assistance to individuals and families with a household income of less than $60,000 a year. VITA’s volunteers are trained and certified by the IRS to help taxpayers maximize their potential tax returns by ensuring all of the tax credits and deductions for which they qualify are claimed.
Through this free service, United Way helps people build financial stability by saving money on tax prep fees and maximizing their returns. Many people in our community don’t have access to affordable tax preparation services or are unaware of programs like Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that could put thousands of dollars back in their hands and into our local economy.
The IRS announced last month that this year’s tax season start is delayed until February 12 and that refunds for taxpayers claiming the EITC will begin being processed the first week of March. With greater filing and processing challenges due to the pandemic and to increase the speed of your refund, the IRS encourages people to file electronically. Though the tax season start is delayed, many online tax filing options are accepting returns now, which will be transmitted to the IRS on February 12.
To help expedite the refund process, VITA clients will have the option to have their tax refund direct deposited to a Focus Card, a pre-paid VISA debit card offered through a partnership Community Financial Resources and U.S. Bank.
Another new service available to VITA clients this year are “Promise Accounts,” a matched savings program that allows participants to deposit regular money into a special saving account for emergency use. Deposits are matched 1:1 by the program after a year of saving. In addition, all program participants take part in financial coaching sessions and workshops offered through United Way’s new Opportunity Center to help manage their finances in the future.
Last year, more than 10,000 people across the Upstate had their returns prepared and filed for free through VITA and MyFreeTaxes.com, saving more than $2 million in tax preparation fees and generating more than $13.6 million in refunds into our local economy.
Visit https://www.www.unitedwaygc.org/vita to learn more.