United Way Suncoast is sponsoring the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to help community members with their tax returns for free.
Through the program, taxpayers in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties will be assisted by IRS-certified volunteers. VITA aims to help low and mid-income individuals get a return on their taxes without having to pay for a tax preparer.
“Our goal is to provide no-cost, accurate tax return preparation for households with an income less than $74,000 and ensure that they receive every credit they are entitled to,” said United Way Suncoast’s financial stability manager, Nichole Pena. “One in five taxpayers who is eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit does not claim it; that equates to $135 million in the Suncoast region alone in unclaimed credits each year.”
In the last two years, VITA has helped return over $20 million to the five-county area. VITA volunteers have also caught key mistakes on tax returns done by paid tax preparers to ensure a larger return to the individual. Over 400 individuals are trained to serve at over 40 locations across the area.
All VITA sites are currently open and accepting appointments until Tax Day on Tuesday, April 18. However, after Tax Day, at least one site in each county will reopen in June to assist individuals with filing prior year returns or resolving a letter from the IRS.
“The VITA program was started in 1971 as a partnership between the IRS and trusted community organizations such as nonprofits, colleges and universities and municipalities to provide no-cost, accurate tax preparation services,” said Pena.
Prior to attending an appointment to receive help from the volunteers, taxpayers should bring their Social Security card, ID, federal income tax return from last year and other income information.
Pena advises taxpayers to make sure all tax returns are accurate and to be wary of fraudulent tax preparers. She said some can decrease or increase your return by manipulating the information on the return, making the taxpayer liable for tax fraud.
For more information on the VITA program or to book an appointment with the IRS-certified volunteers, visit www.uwsvita.org or call 1-833-UWS-VITA (897-8482).