How to Benefit from the IRS VITA Program: A Less Taxing Option

Having difficulty preparing your tax returns? Do you feel uncertain about hiring a private professional? There are many ways in which you can gain assistance. It is possible for taxpayers to report their assets to the government and fulfill the demands of the IRS in a manner that suits their needs without requiring them to pay expensive fees charged by a tax professional. The federal government (in conjunction with some state authorities) offers this aid through the IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program, as well as the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program. Both were created in response to the difficulties that millions of Americans face when trying to complete their tax forms independently and the two programs continue to provide assistance today.

The IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Program) provides free counseling and assistance in assessing personal taxes and filling out legal forms. In order to take part in the program, individuals must meet a set of criteria. VITA was created with the intention of helping those whose ability to prepare their own tax returns was impeded by their economic situation. Correspondingly, its participants usually earn low to moderate incomes ($49,000 or below). In contrast, Tax Counseling for Elderly (TCE) provides free support for taxpayers over 60. In both cases, services are administered in public areas such as libraries, shopping malls, community centers and schools. All volunteers are trained in tax management; many of them are law and accounting students but a large number of advisors are retirees who have been trained by nonprofit organizations recognized by the federal government.

Those who serve in the military are also entitled to assistance from the federal government when it comes to preparing their taxes. The military volunteer tax infrastructure centers around the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC), which provides assistance to those enlisted in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Those who are serving in the military are also eligible for free assistance in preparing their taxes regardless of where they are stationed.

In order to successfully prepare your tax return at your VITA/TCE session, make sure you bring a number of things. In addition to proof of identification, you will need to present your Social Security card, as well as those of your spouse and dependents. If you can do so, bring a letter from the Social Security Administration verifying the validity of your number. Other important items include Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers and interest and dividend statements issued by banks. A complete list of necessary forms can be found on the IRS website.

VITA and TCE high level of success on a nationwide scale has been partly due to the wide variety of organizations they have partnered with, ranging from local community volunteer programs to massive lobbying groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which has used its national reach to provide its TCE-linked Tax Aide services in thousands of locations.

Siddarth Nagaraj

Siddarth Nagaraj is a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is currently pursuing a double major in Global Studies and Political Science with a minor in Geography. Originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he is interested in socioeconomic inequity and cultural diversity in developing nations. He is also a Section Editor for The Hill, UNC’s only nonpartisan political review, and has written multiple articles on international affairs for the quarterly publication.

Since the summer of 2010, he has volunteered as a Savings Officer for the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) in Chapel Hill, which seeks to promote financial literacy and help fiscally strained individuals achieve self-sufficiency. Apart from writing, Siddarth enjoys reading, travel, and watching British television programs. Upon graduation, he plans to earn a graduate degree and seek employment in the field of international development.

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