MADISON, Wis. (1/27/11)--It’s tax season, and credit unions are doing their part to ease the burden of tax return preparation for their members. The programs credit unions offer are affordable alternatives to income tax filing companies and high-interest refund anticipation loans, which often charge excessive fees. Some of the efforts credit unions are making nationwide are:
* For the third consecutive year, Belco Community CU, Harrisburg, Pa., will provide free tax preparation services. Belco Community has partnered with the Internal Revenue Service and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to help prepare basic tax returns for qualifying individuals and families. Roughly eight Belco employees and nine non-Belco employees have volunteered to become certified tax preparers. The VITA Program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income (generally $49,000 and below) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. Certified volunteers sponsored by various organizations receive training to help prepare basic tax returns in communities across the country. * To help Michigan families and individuals access state and federal tax credits, the Michigan credit union community has launched “Just file it! We’ll help”: Free tax preparation resources for those in need. More than 50 credit unions in Michigan are participating in the Just file it! program. Filers visit a participating credit union’s website to complete their tax forms online. The technology backbone of Just File It! is I-CAN! E-File, a Web-based tax-filing solution created by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Santa Ana, Calif., as a tool to help those eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and other credits file their taxes without being charged excessive fees. * Pacific Service CU, Fresno, Calif., will again partner with the United Way of Fresno County to host the VITA program for a fourth year. “Each year the refunds processed through the VITA program increase,” said Steve Punch, president of Pacific Service CU. “For 2009, the dollars returned to families in our community surpassed $10 million from the 5,700 returns filed, an increase of over 1,000 returns from the prior year.” * The El Paso (Texas) Affordable Housing credit union service organization CUSO manages a coalition with 16 VITA sites in partnership with eight local credit unions. VITA services are offered at three credit union sites and offer savings accounts to unbanked VITA clients. Also, this year the IRS and El Paso Affordable Housing CUSO are piloting a Schedule-C free tax preparation site targeting taxpayers with very small businesses that normally file a Schedule C.