VITA San Antonio offers free tax preparation for low-income people

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Even though the year is over (and 2021 isn’t a good start), there’s one more element of 2020 that lingers on many to-do lists: filing income tax returns. However, there is some relief for Texans after the winter storms, as the Internal Revenue Service announced on Tuesday. a statewide extension of time and other tax breaks.

The recent declaration of disaster as well as the economic and personal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic last year mean that many taxpayers will have even more complicated taxes to declare this year and next. With VITA San Antonio, people who earn $ 55,000 or less can pay their taxes for free. VITA is the acronym for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

Robin Hernandez, 26, worked in event coordination before COVID-19 shut down the industry. He’s single and doesn’t own a home or business, so his taxes have always been straightforward.

“This year, a lot of factors came into play with COVID,” Hernandez said. He lost his job in August, began receiving unemployment checks, and found medical insurance and treatment.

He wasn’t sure how to navigate the tax system this year and his mother, who used VITA as a child, told Hernandez to look into the free program.

Because it was free, “I was a little skeptical,” he said. But it was easy, safe and “they give you everything you need”.

When her mother went to VITA to do her taxes, she was able to sit down with a volunteer tax preparer to review her papers like someone would in a private tax preparation company. For Hernandez, that process has changed because of the pandemic.

He called in advance to learn more about the program and what information it needed to collect. Due to staff limitations, customers must print the correct forms and make copies of their documents, but can also choose to use email.

When clients arrive at one of nine sites from various community centers and colleges, VITA staff greet them outside to ensure they complete a form. Admission form and appropriate papers.

“I just put everything in an envelope… and I just handed it over,” said Hernandez, who filed his completed return last week. The reporting season began on February 12. Typically, taxes are applicable April 15, but the IRS has extended the deadline for businesses and individuals affected by storms from last week to June 15.

“It is a very useful resource for [low-income] communities, ”Hernandez said of VITA. “I think a lot of people… don’t necessarily have the resources to learn how to prepare their own tax returns.

This is exactly why VITA, a IRS Sponsored Program, was launched over 50 years ago. The San Antonio program began over 10 years ago and is managed by a collaborative coalition including United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, Catholic Charities, City of San Antonio, and approximately 30 other organizations.

The pandemic has hampered VITA’s ability to reach the low-income communities it serves, said Jason Alemán, director of United Way. “But there was never a moment of thought that we wouldn’t.”

For the 2018 tax year, VITA coalition volunteers prepared more than 32,000 tax returns at 23 locations. Last year, with three sites open, volunteers were able to prepare more than 23,000 tax returns. Almost 7,000 taxpayers received earned income tax credits valued at over $ 15.8 million.

The program can continue to operate thanks to the support of its partners, said Alemán. “It’s such a collaboration that there is no real ownership. … It’s just kind of a handshake.

VITA offers additional services after tax season at its offices within the Guadalupe Community Center, St. Philips College and the Willie C. Velasquez Learning Center.

Every volunteer is trained and certified, he said. They take a minimum of 20 hours of training and must pass an IRS exam before they can prepare or submit a tax return.

“For the more complex [tax] situations, the tax preparer will definitely contact the taxpayer and go through the process with them, ”he said, and the best way to connect to VITA is to call the United Way helpline on 2 -1-1.

Thanks to a multi-year partnership with River City Federal Credit Union, people who use VITA can qualify for an early repayment loan depending on the amount they expect to receive from the federal government, Alemán added.

Unlike predatory payday loans which carry huge interest rates, these loans are interest free and are free for people who have taken advantage of VITA.

“It helps people who need it immediately,” he said. “There are no fine print.”

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