STEP’s free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program had its best year ever, saving low-income taxpayers in excess of $121,000 in preparation fees for the 2015 tax season.
With the help of volunteers, 607 individual federal tax returns were prepared for residents in Franklin and Patrick counties, beating last year’s record of 566 returns. According to Yvonne Anderson, STEP’s tax assistance coordinator, the taxpayers received a cumulative federal refund of $797,624, or an average of $1,570 each. Almost 600 state tax returns were prepared with cumulative refunds totaling $118,452.
“Our volunteers are trained to help taxpayers find credits they are eligible for” such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Anderson said. Other credits they may qualify for include the Child Tax Credit and the Education Credit.
Volunteers and partners included students in Professor David Sulzen’s accounting classes at Ferrum College, and Carter Bank and Trust, Member One, and SunTrust Bank. The banks provided greeters to welcome taxpayers and donated funds for advertising, while the students worked one-on-one with taxpayers to prepare the returns.
“This is a perfect example of the service learning espoused by Ferrum College,” Sulzen said. “It is a ‘win-win’ program with the students learning tax rules as well as gaining interpersonal skills through interacting with the people in the community, and those people getting a free service that helps them claim thousands of dollars of tax credits they might have otherwise missed.”
In order to access the service, taxpayers must not have earned more than $54,000 during 2015. The average adjusted gross income for filers using the free assistance through STEP was $16,461.76, Anderson said.
The VITA program is an IRS sponsored program aimed at helping lower income individuals get the earned income credit they are entitled to. Funding to offer the program through STEP was provided by United Way of Franklin County and the Virginia Community Action Partnership (VACAP).