Income tax season began Jan. 20, and United Way’s VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) centers are open and ready to help. The free centers are part of United Way’s Earn Well initiative established to help low-income working families on the path to financial stability.
Trained volunteers at the centers assist families who earn less than $53,000 to prepare and file their tax returns. The families end up with more money in their pockets by avoiding tax preparation fees and obtaining all eligible tax credits.
“Some for-profit tax preparers do the basic 1040-EZ tax form for free, but charge to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit,” said Sue Matkin, United Way Vice President of Community Development. “Even if those businesses provide an incentive like a $50 gift card, their customers can still end up paying hundreds of dollars for tax preparation assistance that the United Way VITA centers do for free.”
She added that all tax preparers and site coordinators at the United Way centers arecertified by the Internal Revenue Service, whereas some for-profit tax preparers are not.
There are 14 United Way VITA sites in Fort Worth, Arlington, Grapevine and North Richland Hills, plus a special DFW International Airport site that will help prepare the taxes of airport vendors and employees for 3 weeks. United Way’s VITA center partnersare Catholic Charities, City of Arlington, City of Fort Worth, Compassionate Fort Worth, Foundation Communities and the Internal Revenue Service.
Last year families using the centers filed 5,198 tax returns and received more than $10 million in refunds, including $4.1 million in Earned Income Tax Credits. They received an average refund of $1,992—a great benefit considering their annual incomes averaged $14,016.
This year Sue hopes the centers will be able to prepare 6,200 tax returns that yield $4.5 million in EITC refunds. She also hopes 350 families will save some of their refund money. Families are encouraged to use 30 percent of their refund to pay off debt, 40 percent for something enjoyable such as a television or vacation, and 30 percent for savings.
Information about United Way VITA center locations and operating hours is availablehere in English and Spanish, or at www.freetaxdfw.com. People can walk in without an appointment, or they can dial 2-1-1 to schedule an appointment at a center through United Way’s 2-1-1 information and referral service. Appointments will begin Feb. 2.
“We’re still looking for volunteers to be greeters, interpreters, intake specialists and tax preparers,” said Sue. “Volunteers are the lifeblood of this program.” People can volunteer by going to www.freetaxdfw.com or by emailing VITA@unitedwaytarrant.org. Training is provided.