Tax season is taxing for most of us, but many lower-income and elderly people find it especially complex and costly. A helping hand can make a big difference.
Each year, as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, qualified volunteer tax preparers in Forsyth County, N.C., fan out across the community, preparing taxes for free for people making $54,000 a year or less. This year, group of six RAI Services (RAIS) employees — all finance professionals — joined the volunteer effort on behalf of the nonprofit Experiment in Self-Reliance after getting the necessary training and certification.
“It was truly a rewarding experience,” said Edna Bonilla, a senior manager in the finance department and one of the volunteers. “The clientele is very grateful for the patience, time and knowledge invested in assisting them with the preparation of their tax returns. I would gladly volunteer going forward and encourage others to participate in the VITA program.”
The other volunteers this year were Joshua Hulin, Liqing Carey, Bruce Nix, Jim Carros and Dianise Maldonado. All were recently honored for their work with community-service certificates from the Internal Revenue Service, and they received special thank-you letters from the Experiment in Self Reliance. “They did an exceptional job, collectively contributing 80 hours this past tax season, and the payback was huge,” said Jerry Romans, vice president of special projects and board chairman of the local agency.
The VITA program, which is also supported by the United Way of Forsyth County, focuses on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This represents the largest anti-poverty program in the U.S., lifting 9 million people out of poverty by providing low-income working adults with a tax credit based on their income. On average, a qualified Forsyth County taxpayer receives $1,700 in EITC credit, and sometimes the credit can be more than the amount earned during the year. In addition to benefiting working families, the credit brings money directly into the community. Volunteer tax preparers are educated on tax credits and help people receive every tax credit for which they qualify. For the 2017 tax season, nearly 4,000 returns — generating about $4.9 million in refunds, of which $2.3 million were EITC — were done through VITA/EITC programs in Forsyth County.
“This free tax preparation service is very much in line with our philanthropic mission,” Romans said. “It has a major economic impact, but it is very volunteer intensive, and we would love for more of our employees to participate next year.”