WUFT News

A little less taxing: VITA offers free filing services

By on April 11th, 2013

When Charmaine Haugen complained to a friend about the cost of tax filing service, she recommended Haugen try the VITA program. It offers free filing services to anyone earning less than $51,000 per year.

Haugen, a substitute teacher and education student at Sante Fe Community College, was more satisfied with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program than the private accountant she previously used.

“After they did my taxes, I wanted to call up and say ‘Is there any way I could amend my taxes from two years ago?'” she said.

The VITA program is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service. The national program is staffed by local volunteers, who help qualifying people fill out their tax forms. The local initiative is run by the United Way of North Central Florida.

The United Way of North Central Florida has been partnered with VITA since 2010. Last year, the United Way of North Central Florida filed 1,293 tax returns, resulting in more than $1,000,000 in refunds.

This year, the United Way of North Central Florida is operating more than 17 sites across Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties, said Sarah Coulson, United Way of North Central Florida communication specialist.

With the volunteers’ help, people apply for tax credits such as earned income tax credit, the only fully refundable credit. Less than 60 percent of the people who qualify actually benefit from it.

One of VITA’s goals is to increase that number, said Michael Gutter, who coordinates the program in IFAS extension offices.

“We really want to make sure that low-income families can take care of taxes without any predatory services,” Gutter, an associate professor of family financial management at the University of Florida, said. “There wasn’t enough outreach to low-income people. They didn’t even know the tax breaks existed.”

Most traffic comes at the beginning of tax season, Gutter said, when families struggling to make ends meet “come in waves” to file for their refunds as soon as possible. There is also a rush of people in the final week who have put the paperwork off.

This year, a total of 90 volunteers are stationed throughout the six counties. There are 42 volunteers from UF’s financial planning, law and business schools and 48 with the United Way of North Central Florida. All volunteers receive IRS training and spend four hours per week with the program for the five weeks of tax season. They don’t hesitate to call the IRS if they have questions, Haugen said.

“I told all my friends, ‘You need to go to VITA. They are absolutely the best people I have ever worked with when doing my taxes,'” she said.

Anyone can call the 2-1-1 hotline and learn where the closest VITA station is located and what to bring. The services are available either in person or online.

The online filing service is for people earning $57,000 or less.


This entry was posted in Local and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 

More Stories in Local

Preserving History Through Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Recipe

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park exists as a way to remember Florida history… But the workers there are doing something extra to “preserve” memories. WUFT’s Marie Edinger reports.


CMT’s “Gainesville” docu-series will premiere Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. This “coming of age” show will focus on a group of 20-something year old’s as they try to make it on their own. Photo courtesy of CMT

Gainesville Reality Show Set To Air Aug. 20

Country Music Television’s new docu-series “Gainesville” is set to air back-to-back episodes on Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. Some residents are worried that the show will not accurately portray Gainesville.


Midwife Talks About Life Experiences

Former midwife, Glenn Cameron, gives a glimpse into her years as a midwife in the 70s and the challenges the practice presented.


FDOT Cuts Funding For Active Streets

The FDOT cut funding for Gainesville’s Active Streets event, which offers free pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly activities twice per year. The organization and its supporters are trying to overturn the decision and look for new ways to fund the event.


Amanda Norman and two other Grace Marketplace residents wait outside the kitchen doors as it rains heavily. Norman has lived in Dignity Village for more than two months. photo by Thomas Lynn

The Grace Marketplace Debate Over Improvements

Gainesville’s City Commission approved a $585,525 budget for improvements that will make 10 campus buildings at the Empowerment Center livable. Residents and volunteers look forward to the changes, but some are concerned by the nearby chaos at Dignity Village.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments