With tax season just around the corner, local officials are preparing to offer a program that provides free filing services to the public.
But volunteers are needed in order to provide that program, according to Annalisa Davis, director of Jones Family Resource Center in Mount Airy. That site on Jones School Road has hosted the free tax-preparation service in recent years.
Davis said plans call for the 2014 version of the program to begin late next month and continue to mid-April.
“It’s a wonderful service,” she said of the aid offered through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a national effort to provide free tax-preparation help to people with low-to-moderate incomes (about $53,000 and below).
During the last tax season, 144 local residents benefited from the VITA program and the expertise of a volunteer crew of trained preparers.
That translates into more than $38,800 in fees saved on the part of those taxpayers, given that the average cost for tax preparation is $210 to $270. It also led to total refunds of $118,060 for the 144 federal returns filed on behalf of local residents, not even counting the 148 state returns that the volunteers also prepare.
However, the team of volunteers for next year’s program must be assembled before the first returns can be processed.
“We usually have about five or six,” Davis said. “We’ve got two that are committed next year.”
VITA sites are operated by local community coalitions/partners — officials at Jones Family Resource Center in Mount Airy’s case — with support, training and supervision from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Returns are prepared and reviewed by the IRS-certified volunteers using agency-approved software.
Tax preparers and reviewers must become certified by passing one or more IRS tests, ranging from basic to advanced. The training and testing can require a time commitment of 14 to 18 hours.
The main requirements for a volunteer include an ability to learn about tax regulations and pass an IRS test, the ability to use a computer and tax-preparation software and strong interpersonal and communication skills with diverse groups of people. Good attention to detail and the ability to maintain high standards of confidentiality are needed as well.
Training materials and classroom instruction are provided to the volunteers by the IRS.
Persons interested in serving as a VITA volunteer can call Annalisa Davis or Brack Llewellyn, director of the Surry County Senior Centers, at 786-6155 to apply or for more information.
“Anyone can volunteer,” a VITA spokesman said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn about tax preparation and give back to the community.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.