Although tax filing season is coming to a close on April 18, for those with low- to moderate-income there’s still time to get free, in-person, or online tax filing assistance.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs are two of a few free tax preparation services offered across the country. According to United Way, a nonprofit organization working in partnership with the IRS to offer VITA nationwide, they offer over 12,000 VITA locations across 50 states and the District of Columbia, which help prepare millions of federal and state returns each year.
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program offers TCE for those over the age of 50, with over 3,700 locations, serving over one million taxpayers per year.
Both programs are offered virtually and in-person at local libraries, community centers, senior centers, college and university campuses, and more. However, they’re specifically available to those who earn $60,000 or less, those with disabilities, those with limited English-speaking abilities, and, importantly, have what is considered a “simple” return.
While many free tax preparation locations will close after April 18, some will stay open during the six-month extension period. An extension must be requested through the IRS by the deadline. However, those considered victims in FEMA disaster areas are receiving an automatic extension.
Building up the Financial Future of the Black Community
Rosie Allen-Herring, president and CEO of United Way of the National Capital Area, serves the greater Washington, D.C. area where the median household income is $102,000, according to data from DC Health Matters 2022 Demographics. But, for Black and African-American households, the median income is around $54,000.
“We recognize that in the Washington metropolitan area, while we have some of the highest incomes in the country, I always talk about the gap,” Allen-Herring says. “The gap is so huge that, for many, it really is a challenge to just simply make ends meet.”
The AARP Foundation serves people 50 and older, with a focus on tackling senior poverty, food insecurity, social isolation, and legal advocacy.
“For us as an organization, we want to ensure that older adults with low income receive access to benefits and tax credits that are going to help ensure they either stay out of poverty or actually get out of poverty,” says Jackie Lynn Coleman, AARP Foundation’s senior director of national business operations.
While most known for the AARP membership, a membership is not required to utilize the Tax Aide program, making it more accessible to those in need.
“We save taxpayers a lot of money because they won’t actually have to pay for the service,” Coleman said. “We’ve seen in many instances where taxpayers may be paying anywhere from $400 or more just to get their tax returns prepared, and we can help that money stay in the pockets of the African-American and Black community.”
Powered by the Local Community and Volunteers
For over 50 years, volunteers have powered the IRS’s VITA and TCE programs, all of whom are trained and certified to understand privacy, confidentiality, and changes in tax laws. In addition, these programs have a form of “quality assurance” by requiring a quality review check for returns prepared at their volunteer locations.
Coleman says the foundation’s Tax Aide program has over 25,000 volunteers.
“We rely on community partners and various organizations to host sites,” she says. “We also recruit from the community. So, recruiting from African American and Black communities, and in any other diverse community, it’s really essential that the services can continue to be provided in low-income areas.”
In addition to VITA, United Way’s National Capital Area also has Financial Empowerment Centers in several local counties. Other than the tax filing program, they offer financial coaching and seminars, and small business coaching, among other services.
“What’s important for us, when it comes to VITA, is that we educate our community around what’s available to them, bringing the resources to the table,” Allen-Herring says.
“Part of that economic stability is not just offering them here and there, but it’s part of educating the community about how to look for those resources, where they may be able to find them and take advantage of them.”
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