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VITA Centers Put More Money in the Pockets of Hard-Working Families

Sixteen free United Way of Tarrant County Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) centers are now open to help low- to moderate-income households claim all eligible refund dollars this tax season. One of the VITA centers in Fort Worth is located at Opening Doors for Women, where Deliris Gonzalez was a first-time VITA client.

I like many things about VITA. First, I like that it’s free. Second, I like that they double-check everything to make sure they didn’t make any mistakes,” said Deliris (shown here with VITA volunteer Larry Klos). “It is nice to know that when I leave here everything will be done right.”

Many people pay hundreds of dollars in tax preparation fees when they do not go to a VITA center. “This was my first time using VITA; before this I had to pay someone to do my taxes,” Deliris said. “It is nice to be able to save that money.”

Deliris will be getting a refund this year because she is eligible for tax credits. “I am not sure yet what I will be doing with my refund, but I am so happy to be getting one,” she said.

Last year 8,000 individuals and families qualified for $13.4 million in tax refunds at the centers. The average tax refund for a family was $1,672; an impressive amount considering that the average family income of VITA customers is $19,000 to $20,000.

The VITA center at Opening Doors for Women is run by Jeanette Hopkins, who has been working for VITA for more than five years.

“I have worked in tax prep for more than 20 years, so I am very hands on here at the center,” Jeanette said. “One of the most important things we do here is to get comfortable with our clients and build a relationship with the community. We have three full-time volunteers here, and they do a great job of that.”

The VITA centers are possible only because of the hundreds of volunteers who donate their time to be tax preparers, intake specialists, interpreters and greeters.

One of those volunteers is Larry Klos. Larry has been volunteering for VITA for three years. As a volunteer, Larry has two perspectives when it comes to the center. “For the clients, it’s a great way for them to get their taxes done for free, and from my perspective, it’s a way to give back to the community,” Larry said. “I found an ad for VITA when I was looking for a volunteer opportunity. I’m retired, I have the time, and with the training they provide me here I can help people in this way.”

By using VITA, families end up with more money in their pockets because tax preparers will make sure they are obtaining all available tax credits. “We try to identify tax benefits that are available to low-income people,” Larry said. “We make sure they get the earned income credit and the child tax credit.”

The VITA centers are part of United Way’s EARN WELL initiative established to help low-income working families on the path to financial stability. At the VITA centers, 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. Last year 222 families chose to save $300,503; more than six times the previous year’s amount.