Volunteers Help Low Income, Foreign Workers File Taxes
"Hi, I'm Jena, I'll be doing your taxes today."
Jena is one of hundreds of volunteers working mornings, evenings and weekends to help Utahns file their taxes- for free. The catch? You need to have made less than $52,000 in 2013.
"Back in 1969, the congress mandated to the Internal Revenue Service that they assist the general public with tax filing, due to the complexity of the tax code. So out of that came the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program," said IRS Spokesman Bill Brunson.
The VITA program is almost entirely run by volunteers, and sites are usually located at community and neighborhood centers, such as libraries and schools.
At Utah State University, the Beta Alpha Psi honor society will spend their Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings from Feb. 4 to April 1 helping the public with their taxes. Just like other volunteers around the state, they've spent weeks preparing, learning, and testing to be able to file taxes.
Beta Alpha Psi Faculty Advisor Bonnie Villarreal said the students receive training, just as all VITA volunteers would.
"The IRS provides training materials to us, and tests that have to be passed for someone to work in the VITA clinic. They have to get an 80 percent, and they only get two tries at it," Villarreal said. "Every volunteer gets trained in the standards of conduct that the IRS expects, and there are different levels and topics of tax law they can be trained in depending on what they want to be able to do."
The VITA volunteers are trained on basic income tax preparation and electronic filing for state and federal returns. While the VITA clinic at USU is open to the general public, Villarreal says one of the most important services they offer is tax help for students.
"One of the main services we provide is helping students sort out the education related issues on their tax return. There are some tax credits that are available to students and sometimes there's income students have because of fellowships and grants and things that they have," she said.
The VITA program helps cater to those who speak English as a second language, and the Beta Alpha Psi group does that by helping foreign students who work in the U.S.
"When a person comes from another country to get a degree at Utah State, a lot of them are employed either as research assistants or teaching assistants, or their visa allows them the right to work, oftentimes just on campus," Villarreal said. "Along with that comes the obligation to file US tax return, and they don't normally have an experience with that. We can make sure that they stay in compliance with federal laws."
VITA groups throughout Utah also help low-income families, and VITA Regional Director Jodi West says the work for her and her volunteers can be extremely rewarding.
"Most families that utilize the VITA program use their refund for basic needs, and so being able to tell them they're getting a large refund can be very fulfilling."
To find a VITA site in Utah, visit utahtaxhelp.org.
In order to have taxes filed at a VITA site, the public must bring the following items:
- Photo ID
- Social Security Cards for you, your spouse and dependents or a Social Security Number verification letter issued by the Social Security Administration or
- Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letter for you, your spouse and dependents
- Proof of foreign status, if applying for an ITIN
- Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents on the tax return
- Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc from all employers
- Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)
- A copy of last year’s federal and state returns if available
- Proof of bank account routing numbers and account numbers for Direct Deposit, such as a blank check
- Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider's tax identifying number (the provider's Social Security Number or the provider's business Employer Identification Number) if appropriate
- To file taxes electronically on a married-filing-joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.