Tax officials are urging low-to-moderate income metro Atlantans to consider using Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to meet their tax-preparation needs –– free of charge –– as opposed to paying for the services.
The VITA Program provides workers who earned $49,000 or less in 2011 household income, with free tax-preparation services. The program is made possible through the joint efforts of the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other community organizations, according to Angie Clawson, public relations manager for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign is an initiative of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, added Clawson. It partners with local organizations and volunteer tax professionals to put on free tax-preparation clinics throughout metro Atlanta.
Clawson said IRS-certified, volunteer tax preparers at more than 40 VITA sites in 12 metro counties, including Clayton and Henry, are available now to offer tax services, and screening for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Area VITA sites are open now through April 17. They include the following: Clayton State University, 2000 Clayton State Blvd., in Morrow; Clayton County Headquarters Library, 865 Battlecreek Road in Jonesboro; St. Phillip Benizi Catholic Church, 591 Flint River Road in Jonesboro; Shiloh Christian Education Center, 53 Macon St., in McDonough; and Stockbridge Assembly of God, 3910 North Henry Blvd., in Stockbridge.
Clawson said several sites also offer support with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Benefits Screening (for programs such as Food Stamps/SNAP energy assistance, and childcare assistance), and Credit Report analysis.
“With so many people still unemployed, and now underemployed, the VITA program is a great way for those who are struggling to save money,” said Carter Elliott, manager of the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign.
The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign reported serving 13,327 taxpayers at its community-based VITA tax sites last year, returning about $21 million in tax refunds to the local economy, including more than $5 million in Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) accessed by eligible taxpayers.
“Households that use a commercial tax preparation service pay an average of $200 to have their tax returns prepared, and these services typically don’t offer help finding out if someone qualifies for the EITC, which can put even more money into the taxpayer’s pocket,” Elliott continued. “Many people who are eligible to receive the credit don’t even know to apply for it. VITA volunteers are trained to screen clients to see if they can receive EITC.”
Qualifying families with three or more children may be eligible to receive refunds as high as $5,751. Those who qualify, but have failed to claim the credit in prior years may apply for the EITC retroactively for a period of up to three years for up to $15,000.
For a list of free tax-preparation sites and operating hours, visit the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign web site at www.atlantaprosperity.org, or call the United Way’s helpline, 211, or (404) 614-1000.