More than one million Southerners benefit from free tax prep assistance with VITA, commonly known as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, and today is VITA Awareness day, as we are one month away from the tax filing deadline of April 15, 2016.

VITA is the nation’s largest volunteer free tax-preparation program. Each year volunteers from across the country mobilize to provide in-person assistance to low- and moderate-income tax filers in navigating our complicated tax code.

VITA preparers offer free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, elderly, veterans, and limited English speaking taxpayers.

Each year, thousands of volunteers (many of whom are retired CPAs) gather at public libraries, community colleges, community centers, and local nonprofits to assist people—many who benefit greatly from claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit. The most recent data from the VITA program reveals that more than 1 million Southerners secure refunds of more than 1 billion dollars with roughly 30 percent of the refunds coming from the EITC.

Southern VITA Chart

Rates of Returns Completed by VITA

The VITA program and other free-file self-serve options like The Benefit Bank® save taxpayers money during tax time. The average fee for a paid professional tax payer is costly—with services targeted towards individuals least able to bear the cost.

In fact, a recent estimate in Durham, NC found average fee of about $200. Some firms go even further in offering predatory products marketed towards individuals who are in dire straits, and are willing to lower their overall refund in the hopes of getting their deposit just a few days earlier.

A conservative estimate (around $200 for the average cost of a return) would suggest that VITA saves low- and moderate-income Southern tax filers more than $208 million dollars a year in paid-preparer fees.

Not only is VITA saving taxpayers money, the program has also continuously demonstrated low error rates compared to many self- and paid-tax preparation services. For the relatively small investment (around $12 million went to 213 nonprofit organizations for the 2012 filing season) in the program, VITA preparers are providing a high quality resource to many of our country’s most marginalized citizens.

So today, give a big shout-out to your local VITA tax preparer—chances are you can find them at your local library—and share this information and resource with your family and friends.

 

This post written by Scott Edmonds, Program Manager for MDC. Scott primarily supports MDC’s employment security portfolio by providing project management, policy research, data analysis, and program design expertise for projects that seek to eliminate the underlying barriers to an individual or family’s success in securing postsecondary education and employment.