Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA): A Free Way to Get Help With Your Taxes
Doing taxes can be frustrating. When every dollar counts, many of us don’t want to spend money to meet our obligations as a taxpayer. Many of us don’t want to be working in software, hoping that the right questions are asked and that you provide the right answers. This is where VITA may provide a good option for you.
Who Is Eligible for Tax Help from VITA or TCE?
The IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has been around for over 50 years. Typically, it offers free tax help and tax filing assistance to:
- People who generally make about $57,000 a year or less
- Persons with disabilities
- Military service members and families
- Limited English-speaking taxpayers
Also, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program specializes in assisting those who are 60 years of age or older.
The sites for these programs are staffed with IRS-certified volunteers and are often part of non-profit organization. All the volunteers who prepare tax returns must have training that meets or exceeds IRS standards. Some sites have restrictions on whom they will assist and on what level of complexity they will handle. And others may help people with higher income than indicated above. It is a good idea to make sure ahead of time that they can assist you for your particular tax situation.
I have seen non-profits that are focused on one segment of our society offer VITA services to people in other segments. If an organization may be more convenient for you and you aren’t sure they will help you, ask them.
How to Find a VITA Site
You could use favorite search engine to find a VITA site or call around to non-profits to track one down. But I prefer to use the IRS website – after all, they are paid by our tax dollars! The IRS has a VITA/TCE Locator Tool. In addition to the location, you can find what days of the year they operate (some are open outside of “tax season”), hours of operation, whether services can be provided using languages other than English, contact information, and whether an appointment is required.
Note that some VITA sites assist you in doing the tax returns. Others do the returns for you much like when a tax professional does your tax return. If you prefer one approach versus the other, make sure you ask before you go.
VITA is a good option if you want in-person assistance, if you meet the requirements of the VITA site for assistance, and your tax return isn’t too complicated. Tax prep fees can easily cost several hundred dollars. If VITA fits your situation, you can keep those dollars. My guess is you can find some good uses for that money.
You can also explore other options for filing your taxes for free.
Jerry Zeigler is a Navy veteran who serves service members with financial counseling and education. As an Accredited Financial Counselor®, he is a member of the Better Financial Counseling Network and is the owner of JZ Financial Management. As a tax professional and Enrolled Agent, he has a passion for helping taxpayers navigate taxes.