Mayor Chris Beutler today announced that community funders have contributed more than $37,000 so far to support the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in the Lincoln area. The program provides free tax preparation services to qualified low- to moderate-income individuals and families.
"Last year, VITA volunteers prepared and filed nearly 5,000 returns, which brought back over $6.2 million into the hands of low-income tax payers in our community," Mayor Beutler said. "The money they save through this free service and the money they get back from their returns increase their financial stability and self reliance. VITA also has a positive impact on our local economy as those dollars are spent at our local businesses."
Mayor Beutler thanked the funders - Lincoln Community Foundation, United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County, Cooper Foundation and Woods Charitable Fund. Lancaster County is providing funds to support a VITA site in Raymond, and the City is contributing $10,000. The program is coordinated by Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties and the University of Nebraska's Center for Civic Engagement. The funds are used for development and coordination of the program and volunteer recruitment, training and support.
According to the 2013 U.S. Census, 49 percent of households in Lancaster County earned less than $50,000 a year, making them eligible for VITA services. Community Action estimates that if all eligible households in Lincoln used VITA services, the combined savings could equal over $11 million. This is based on 2013 Census figures showing 56,721 eligible households and the National Society of Accountants average estimated cost of hiring a tax professional in Nebraska at $196 per taxpayer.
The Mayor said careful tax preparation is especially important for the 2014 returns because the Affordable Care Act premium tax credit and personal responsibility payment will appear on returns for the first time. Those who purchased health insurance through healthcare.gov may need to calculate their premium tax credit and reconcile any advanced payments they received to reduce their monthly premium costs. Families who were not covered by minimum essential health coverage all year will have to determine whether they qualify for an exemption from the personal responsibility payment or calculate the payment. VITA volunteers are prepared to deal with these issues.
VITA volunteers will also be able to help taxpayers determine if they are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The credit reduces the amount of federal tax owed and can result in a refund check. The EITC is designed to help working, low-income individuals and families build wealth and invest in the future in order to achieve long-term economic stability. Last year, over 1,200 individuals served through VITA were eligible for EITC and claimed close to $3 million in credits.
The VITA tax preparation services begin Sunday, January 18 and continue through April 15. Sites include the following locations:
The complete schedule is available at communityactionatwork.org. Click "2015 VITA schedule" on the homepage.
To use VITA services, eligible individuals must provide photo identification; Social Security cards or ITIN letter/cards and birth dates for all family members; W-2s and Form 1099s; other relevant tax information such as interest paid on mortgages and student loans, charitable donations, child care bills and the ID numbers of day care providers; a copy of last year's federal and state tax returns; and bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit. Students and taxpayers claiming student dependents should bring forms 1098-T and an itemized statement of student account. Married filers must both be present to sign forms.
Those interested in becoming VITA program volunteers can contact Georgann Roth, Community Action, at 402-875-9320 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AARP is also offering a separate free income tax assistance program at the Downtown Senior Center, 1005 "O" Street from February 2 through April 9. AARP tax aide volunteers will be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Appointments will be accepted after January 26 at 402-441-7158.