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SALT LAKE CITY — Rhonda Shirley of Holladay suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Her health often causes her to transition between occupations, and she has found it difficult to stay financially stable. Last spring she also did not have the funds to pay a tax preparer and did not feel comfortable preparing her own return. Luckily, she came across the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
The VITA program offers free tax help to people who make $51,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. It runs with the help of IRS-certified volunteers who provide free, basic income tax return preparation at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other locations.
According to the IRS, more than 70 percent of Americans have an income to qualify for the free tax assistance. And for those on a tight budget, the volunteer service can make a significant impact. The National Society of Accountants estimates the average cost to prepare an itemized Form 1040 with a Schedule A (for itemized deductions) and a state tax return is $246. The average rate for a return without itemized deductions is $143.
The VITA program wouldn't be possible without the help of volunteers from the community.
–- Greg McDonald, Community Action Partnership of Utah
More than 750 Utahns volunteered with the program during the 2012 filing season. Nationally, VITA volunteers filed more than three million returns in 2013.
"The VITA program wouldn't be possible without the help of volunteers from the community," said Greg McDonald of Community Action Partnership of Utah. "Last year, we were able to help 19,148 low-to-moderate income families who needed assistance preparing their tax returns. This year we expect to prepare more than 20,000 returns."
Behind the tax return numbers are many grateful individuals.
Kelly Bangerter, a single mother of two boys from Salt Lake, discovered the VITA program through a flyer distributed at her work. "I could not have afforded to have a paid preparer submit my return to the IRS," said Bangerter. "I don't know what I would have done if the program didn't exist. I am thankful and impressed by the volunteers who give up their time to prepare my taxes for free. I have considered volunteering as well to return the favor for what has been done for me."
Volunteering with VITA also has many advantages.
I don't know what I would have done if the program didn't exist. I am thankful and impressed by the volunteers who give up their time to prepare my taxes for free.
–- Kelly Bangerter, VITA User
Brady Griffiths from South Jordan has been a VITA volunteer for six years. "When I first started as a volunteer I didn't know much about taxes, but VITA provides great training and is an excellent way to help others in the community" said Griffiths. "I would highly recommend this volunteer experience to others."
The other benefit of being a VITA volunteer is the ability to answer all your own tax questions. Training is offered both online and in the classroom.
I personally have been a VITA volunteer for seven years, and I look forward to tax season each year. I also plan on being a VITA volunteer for as long as the IRS requires me to file a tax return.
If you are interested in becoming a VITA volunteer, go to www.utahtaxhelp.org and register as a volunteer. A regional coordinator will contact you with details. Volunteers are needed all over the state.