Piles of paperwork. Hours at the computer. Long visits to the accountant.
For most of us, tax season is a hassle we’d rather do without. But for those struggling to make ends meet, a full tax refund is a vital budget boost that keeps the lights on, puts food on the table and pays for a place to call home.
At United Way, we’re all about ending poverty, especially the kind that traps families for generations. And we know that helping our neighbors make the most of tax season and maximize their refunds is an important step in helping families break that cycle.
That’s why each year as part of our economic empowerment work, we team up with the Campaign for Working Families (CWF) and other partners to bring the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program to our communities. VITA utilizes IRS-trained volunteers to provide free tax preparation to individuals and families earning $55,000 or less each year. Last year, VITA volunteer completed 61,000 returns, helping return $47.8 million back to local communities.
But VITA is more than a tax return or one-time cash infusion. It empowers community members to take control of their money and put it to work strategically and effectively to build a solid financial foundation to build a future.
- VITA gives taxpayers back a significant portion of their annual income.
In 2018, nearly 50% of VITA clients earned less than $15,000 a year. According to the IRS, last year’s average tax return was just over $2,000. What does that mean? For those clients earning $15,000 or less, that’s nearly 14% of their income back in their bank accounts.
- It saves community members real money.
Not only does VITA help individuals and families maximize their tax returns so they keep more of their hard-earned money, but it also saves them real cash in the process. In 2018, the average cost to have taxes prepared by a paid service was $298 – and that was for a simple return. Add in any situation to make it more complex or toss in a tax credit or two, and the cost goes up. For those living poverty, that $298+ savings is significant and can keep them from having to make tough choices, like falling behind on rent to feed their family.
- It provides access to our nation’s greatest anti-poverty tool.
Many times paid tax services charge clients to access credits that they automatically qualify for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which can return nearly $7,000 to eligible tax payers. But VITA provides access to the EITC and other common credits at no cost, helping to remove barriers so more people can access credits they’re eligible to receive AND that can boost a return – and a budget. Just how significant is the EITC? Each year it helps lift 6 million Americans out of poverty and into a more financially secure foundation.
- It connects people to additional services to build financial health and stability.
What makes VITA unique is the holistic approach it takes to help fight poverty and empower community members to take control of their finances. VITA tax sites connect community members with an array of services to maximize their refunds and make smart decisions on how to use the money they get back. From information on building assets, credit counseling, saving and spending plans and benefits screening and enrollment, VITA empowers clients by equipping them with the resources and tools they need to break out of poverty and build a solid financial foundation – for now, and the future. We couldn’t do this work CWF, Clarifi, UpLift Solutions and Benefits Data Trust.
Visit our VITA page to learn more.