VITA program’s free tax preparation offers convenience, valuable refunds

Give to United Way of Metropolitan Nashville and support the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and other community initiatives

Households earning less than $49,000 per year qualify for free tax preparation assistance through the VITA program. To find a VITA site near you, dial 2-1-1 on your phone. (photo courtesy of United Way of Metropolitan Nashville)

You know it’s coming. After the winter holidays have passed and you’re well on your way to keeping or discarding your New Year’s resolutions, the annual deadline that we all share will soon be upon us: April 15, tax day.

Tackling the numbers, forms, instructions and deadlines of tax preparation can be daunting, and tax preparation services are costly. Luckily, there’s help available through VITA, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. VITA volunteers help those in households earning less than $49,000 per year to prepare and file tax returns at no charge.

Gifts can be made to this and other community initiatives through Dec. 31, 2011.

Last year, more than 7,500 families received free tax preparation at one of 18 VITA sites located throughout Nashville, including several sites on the Vanderbilt campus. Davidson County VITA clients saved more than $1.8 million in tax preparation fees because they chose VITA’s free services instead of paying the $250 in fees and interest that paid tax preparers typically charge. And VITA’s volunteer tax preparers ensure that clients get the refunds and credits they are entitled to. Last year VITA families collected approximately $14 million in tax refunds.

“[rquote]This is money that’s going into these individuals’ pockets that they can use to go to the store and buy food and the other things they need to survive,”[/rquote] said Nicole Langlois, associate director of workplace engagement for United Way of Metropolitan Nashville. That increased buying power not only helps improve the standard of living for these families, but also has a positive economic impact on the Nashville community where they live and shop.

Every year between Jan. 15 and April 15, VITA sites across the country bring together volunteers and those who need assistance in a friendly atmosphere where the volunteers work closely with clients to prepare and file tax returns. With free training provided by the IRS, VITA volunteers are certified to assist with tax preparation before they take on the task. While they may not necessarily be accountants, they are well trained and excited to help their friends and neighbors.

“Numbers and I had never previously been friends,” observed local VITA volunteer Blair McLeod. “Strangely enough, I ended up loving preparing taxes. The whole process of it was interesting, but working one-on-one with families was the most rewarding.”

“In 2012, We’re looking to increase the number of VITA sites we have in Davidson County as well as other communities in Middle Tennessee,” Langlois said. “At United Way, we recognize that needs within the community are often complex and require multiple solutions. Our goal is to help individuals by linking them to agencies and putting them in touch with programs that can help meet their needs.”

VITA is an initiative of the Nashville Alliance for Financial Independence (NAFI), which recognizes that assets are key to long-lasting financial stability. NAFI is one of many agencies comprising United Way of Metropolitan Nashville. You may designate it or any United Way member organization when you give to the community through Vanderbilt Gives.

Community giving is tax-deductible and continues through Dec. 31. Payroll deduction makes it easy to spread a gift out over 12 months, and deductions begin January 2012. Visit Vanderbilt Gives for more information about giving options and to make your gift today.

 written by Donna B. Smith