Free tax help available for qualifying taxpayers

Last year, VITA volunteers prepared 1,435 tax returns in Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties. The program helped these taxpayers obtain $1,768,233 in total refunds. 

Free onsite tax help is available locally for Cache Valley residents whose households made less than $54,000 last year.  Coordinated by the <a href=”http://caputah.org/”>Community Action Partnership of Utah</a>, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides free tax return preparation assistance to people who may have difficulty accessing services for which they’d have to pay.

“I think the most important thing about the program is that it gives people the opportunity to file who wouldn’t otherwise benefit,” said Lucas Martin, VITA’s coordinator in the Bear River region.

Martin is specifically referring to taxpayers whose refunds might be less than the cost of professional tax preparation services. If VITA services weren’t available, Martin said, these individuals and families would actually lose money by filing. This includes the elderly, part-time workers, people with disabilities and wage earners who have lost their jobs.

“We can help those people, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

VITA volunteers receive more than eight hours of formal training, and they are certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  With more than 60 VITA sites statewide, tax preparers serve clients locally in four Logan locations— the <a href=”http://brag.utah.gov/”>Bear River Association of Governments</a> (BRAG) office, the <a href=”http://jobs.utah.gov/”>Department of Workforce Services</a>, <a href=”https://www.stevenshenager.edu/locations/logan”>Stevens Henager College</a> and on the campus of Utah State University, in room B120 of the Business Building. Morning, evening and limited afternoon appointments are available, and tax preparation services are provided in Spanish at the BRAG office every Thursday night.

Scheduling information for the VITA program is available by calling 211. As Sandra Carpio, operations manager at <a href=”http://211utah.org/”>211 Utah</a>, guides potential VITA clients through the screening process, she also refers them to other community programs.

“A lot of times, people who are calling in about the VITA program don’t know about all of the other services available at 211. As we’re completing their screening to see if we can help them with their taxes, we also ask them about other resources they might need like food, housing and utilities so we can help them with that, too.”

Rachel Gregson, who directs the VITA program on a state level, appreciates the coordination VITA facilitates between supporting agencies.

“It’s nice to go to a community service where the motivation and intent truly is about helping people and not about generating a profit,” she said. “I think that with something like taxes, that makes a big difference.”

Gregson also notes how the VITA program receives special funding to taxpayers who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“VITA is run through community action agencies who are tasked with ending poverty,” she said, “and EITC has proven to be, so far, one of the most effective policy creations for actually lifting people out of poverty.”

Martin, who is midway through his second tax season with VITA, has witnessed firsthand how the program benefits taxpayers in the Bear River region. Last year, 1,435 tax returns were prepared through VITA in Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties, resulting in $1,768,233 in total refunds. Seventy-four volunteers contributed 1,593 service hours.

“I get to meet a lot of members of the community,” he said. “It’s exciting to see people coming back to use the service again and bringing their family and friends with them. I also get to see the double benefit of the positive interaction I have with clients and the contribution of our volunteers. These volunteers are people from all walks of life who spend three to six hours each week preparing returns. Over the course of 10 weeks, that’s a lot of time.”

“I think it’s of benefit to our volunteers as well,” said Gregson, “in that they do learn some good skills and tax law, and it just demystifies the whole tax process for a lot of people.”

More information about the VITA program, including an online option for households whose income was less than $64,000 in 2016, is available at <a href=”http://www.utahtaxhelp.org/”>www.utahtaxhelp.org</a>. 

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