By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Special to the Arizona Daily Star
Tax season can be stressful, but for households earning up to $64,000, free help preparing your returns is available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
I encourage everyone who falls within that $64,000 limit to take advantage of this program and access all the tax credits for which they are eligible. For many families, these are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit for low-income wage earners. In some cases, these tax credits are enough to provide families with a cushion against emergencies, or a way to start saving toward long-term goals. Last year, VITA volunteers obtained $12.7 million in EITC for Arizona families.
The VITA program offers three options: 1) free do-it-yourself software available at http://freefile.unitedwaytucson.org; 2) Valet VITA, dropping off your tax documents at any VITA site and picking up your completed returns at a later date; or 3) meeting with an IRS-certified VITA volunteer through the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.
In addition to saving people $250 or more in tax preparation fees, VITA provides access to other benefits, such as savings programs and finding affordable health insurance. And, when returns are filed electronically and refunds are direct-deposited, refunds usually come in less than two weeks. There are no hidden costs and there’s no attempt to lure people into refund anticipation loans that charge high interest and a multitude of fees.
Together, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and Catholic Community Services manage VITA programs in Tucson and Southern Arizona, with 18 VITA tax preparation sites in Pima County alone, including Ajo, Sierra Vista, and Green Valley. Catholic Community Services also operates sites in Safford, Douglas, and Tombstone, as well as others in Central Arizona.
United Way will provide access to tax preparation in several high schools and at select Pima County One-Stop Centers in addition to its regular sites. Taxpayers who are comfortable working with computers may choose to use free tax-preparation software online, powered by H&R Block and Intuit. Visit www.unitedwaytucson.org for links.
People who are interested in becoming IRS-certified VITA volunteers should contact the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. This is a neighbor-helping-neighbor program that brings real benefits to individuals, families, and the community. Last year, 470 VITA volunteers provided 18,000 hours of service through Arizona’s VITA Task Force agencies!
The VITA program helps low- and moderate-income families achieve financial stability and that helps communities—including ours. My thanks to the many VITA volunteers and to United Way and Catholic Community Services for making this program possible.