Right now, all across the country in churches, libraries, schools and community centers, thousands of volunteers are hard at work at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs providing free tax preparation assistance to people in need.
Each tax season, 95,000 independent volunteers donate their personal time to 4,000 community tax programs and help millions of Americans prepare their tax returns for free.
The volunteers are certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide help to low and moderate-income earners, older Americans, people with disabilities, and those with limited English speaking skills, prepare and file their taxes.
For those taxpayers who prefer to prepare their own returns, there is also the IRS Free File Program, a no-cost public-private partnership that allows taxpayers to prepare tax returns on their own, or at some VITA sites, with the help of a volunteer. Free File provides taxpayers a choice of free tax preparation software that is donated annually by a dozen companies, including Intuit, whose free services offers are regulated by a code of standards, rules and requirements governing the Free File Program.
Providing products and services at no charge may seem counterintuitive – especially for companies in the highly competitive tax preparation services industry. However, we share a common commitment to helping taxpayers maximize their refunds and benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child credits. We all believe strongly that it should not be costly or complex to receive those benefits, especially for those most in need.
Taken together, VITA, TCE and Free File serve more than five million taxpayers with free tax services each tax season.
Eligibility for these programs varies by income and age. According to the IRS website, VITA “offers free tax help to people who generally make $55,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.” The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program also serves these taxpayers but specializes in service to those who are 60 years of age and older, particularly helping with questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. The Free File Program is available to people with incomes of $66,000 or less, which translates to 70% of the taxpaying public, or approximately 100,000,000 eligible taxpayers.
These taxpayer assistance programs also help individuals and families use tax time as an opportunity to save and gain a deeper understanding of their financial health.
Walk into a VITA and you will often hear bells, whistles and high fives as taxpayers tell their volunteer preparers they elect to put aside some of their tax refund for emergency savings or to achieve another financial goal. Preparing your own return proves to be a surprisingly empowering experience for many taxpayers. One individual who used a Free File product offering at a VITA site was simultaneously pleased and angry with the experience. “You mean this is all there is to it,” the gentleman expressed. “I can do this!”
Today, VITA, TCE and Free File continue to enjoy broad, bipartisan support in the Congress and with the IRS. Many use their social media channels to encourage the people they serve to use these programs.
As we enter the final weeks of the annual tax-filing season, we extend our thanks to the ongoing commitment of VITA and TCE volunteers and the Free File Alliance, as well as the thought leaders in Congress from both parties who continue to support these important programs that empower millions of deserving American taxpayers to independently meet their tax obligations in ways that improve their tax insights and understanding, and help them better take charge of their financial health.
We would remind everyone–the taxpaying public and those working to help others comply with their tax filing responsibilities–that these programs only benefit the public if those who are eligible for them, know about them. Please visit www.IRS.gov and download the IRS2Go mobile app today and help spread the word about these public service options at the heart of taxpayer empowerment!