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Through VITA program CUs provide free tax help
WASHINGTON (1/31/12)--More than 12,000 free tax preparation sites will be open nationwide this tax season with an army of volunteers to help low- and moderate-income households with their tax preparation, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Credit unions will be among them.

Credit unions are offering their expertise through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)  program and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program. Also, IRS has a Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offering free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older, it announced Friday

VITA offers free tax help to people earning $50,000 or less.  It provides trained and certified community and credit union volunteers to help taxpayers with special tax credits and completing their terms. Through the VITA program, credit unions help lower-income consumers keep more of their EITC refunds in their own pockets, according to the National Credit Union Foundation's REAL Solutions VITA site.

Taxpayers who qualify can claim the EITC credit and could pay less federal, tax, no tax, or get a tax refund. The credit is for low-income working families to offset the burden of Social Security taxes and provide an incentive to work (News Now Jan. 30).

Royal CU, a $1.2 billion asset credit union in Eau Claire, Wis., will offer the program from Feb. 7 to April 14, with the exception of March 15-21 at its Shopko South office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 1-4:30 p.m. It offers assistance filling out basic tax forms (1040EZ, 1040A and 1040). Volunteers are University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College accounting students certified by the IRS, says RCU's website.

The $876 million asset Georgia United CU, Duluth, Ga., is partnering with IRS and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences of the University of Georgia to provide its VITA program, beginning today. Sessions will be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings through April 12, and on Saturdays through April 14 (OnlineAthens.com Jan. 29).

Beginning Wednesday--and for the ninth year--the $4.2 billion asset Bethpage (N.Y.) FCU will help low- to moderate-income households on Long Island  through the VITA program at 12 of its branches. It will make available 150 IRS-certified volunteers, including bilingual tax assessors, to members and nonmembers. Its VITA services will be available Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoon.

Bethpage also joined with the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island to help educate eligible taxpayers about EITC, which each year goes unclaimed for thousands of taxpayers. EITC can bring an additional $7,476 into the hands of some families. Roughly 20% of Long Islanders are eligible to receive the EITC because of unemployment or declining wages, according the credit union (Patch.com Jan. 30).

State Employees' CU, Raleigh, N.C., began its VITA efforts Jan. 23 and will run the program until April 17. It has offered the VITA service for four years and its own low-cost tax preparation service for consumers earning more than the $50,000 VITA annual income cutoff for two years. In 2011, SECU tax preparers filed more than 53,000 returns, with members receiving $82 million in refunds and saving $7.9 million in tax preparation fees. 

According to the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, which is collecting information from credit unions acting as VITA sites in that state, "program participation  is a great way to attract the attention of elected officials and their communities to show how credit unions make a difference by providing citizens with a valuable financial resource" (Life is a Highway Jan. 27).

To help consumers, credit unions can advise them to bring these items when they have their returns prepared:

  • Photo identification;
  • Social Security cards for the taxpayer, spouse and dependents;
  • Birth dates for primary, secondary and dependents on the tax return;
  • Wage/earning statements forms--W-2, W-2G and 1099-R, from all employers;
  • Interest and dividend statements from financial institutions (Form 1099);
  • A copy of last year's federal and state tax returns, if available;
  • Bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit;
  • Other relevant information about income and expenses;
  • Total paid for day care; and
  • Day care provider's identifying number.
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