Volunteer income tax assistance is a program by which those who qualify may be able to receive free income tax preparation from trained volunteers. These volunteers understand the nuances of the tax laws, and may be able to find tax credits and deductions that the average person could easily overlook. Often, to be eligible for volunteer income tax assistance, you must meet certain guidelines, such as having a low to moderate level of income.
The United States Internal Revenue Service sponsors the volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, which provides tax assistance for those generally earning less than $49,000 per year in 2010. The volunteers in the program are all certified to provide basic tax preparation services, which is generally all that is needed for those in lower incomes to complete their returns accurately. If individuals have a difficult tax return because they own their own business or have some other unusual circumstance, they may need to seek the help of a paid professional.
The volunteers in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program are generally not professional tax preparers, but do get training that leads to certification. In order to receive that certification, the volunteers are required to spend a certain number of hours in a tax training class. The IRS and local community agencies usually work together to offer these courses at no charge to the volunteer.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is a program that is very similar to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. This program generally uses the same volunteers, but provides tax assistance to those 60 and older. The main benefit is that there are no income restrictions, which opens the program up to many more individuals. Furthermore, the elderly often need help to prepare their tax returns because they may have trouble keeping up with any new laws.
The main advantage to low-income taxpayers and moderate-income taxpayers is that they are able to complete annual tax returns at no additional cost to themselves. If not for this program, some would likely opt to go to a professional, for-profit tax preparer, or use software bought from a local store. While these are viable options, it does represent an additional expense that can go into the hundreds of dollars depending upon the complexity of the return.
Generally, those who take advantage of volunteer income tax assistance have the same options for potential refunds as anyone else. Filers can receive a check in the mail, or have the money directly deposited into a bank account. The delay is no different for those using a volunteer service compared to those who use a more traditional tax preparation service. They also often have the option of filing electronically, or sending in a paper copy.