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

Thaddeus Bullard sits with homeless couple, Joe and Vivian Mulligan, as he listens to their story.

UF Hall Of Famer And WWE Superstar Feeds The Homeless

Former Gator great Thaddeus Bullard is completing his challenge of 3,000 volunteer hours to the Gator Nation. Along the way, he stopped by the St. Francis House house to help serve food and mingle with the crowd.

IFAS researchers have been involved in an experiment to uncover ways to create tastier and sturdier blueberries.

Florida Researchers Aim To Breed Better Blueberries

Researchers tested 19 different types of blueberries, which were ranked based on overall liking, texture, sweetness, sourness and flavor intensity to determine what type of blueberry people liked and which type would produce consistent results when grown in different environments.

A completed portion of the remediation project consists of green berms sloping downhill towards the wetlands. The brown sections are coconut sodding mats with seeding that will grow from them. Photo by Conor Soper.

Gainesville Landfill Transforms Into Floodplain

A decades-old Gainesville landfill will soon be transformed into a functioning floodplain. The old landfill near the Gainesville Regional Airport has caused erosion and affected the quality of the local water for humans and wildlife. The $1.88 million project to remediate the landfill has been in progress since April, but the landfill has a history dating back more than half a century ago.

A lack of parking spaces at The Grove causes many residents to park illegally, blocking roads. Photo by Kaley Thomas.

Limited Parking For Grove Residents Prompts Towing

Due to a lack of parking spots in the Grove, residents are illegally parking and getting towed.

The Alachua County Commission meeting on Tuesday.

County Programs Receive Word On Funding For 2016

The Alachua County Commission approved the distribution of funds for the CAPP and Choices programs for 2016 fiscal year, putting the future for some local nonprofit agencies in question.

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