United Way to provide free electronic tax filing
With the holiday season giving way to tax season, the United Way of Southern Cameron County wants residents to know they may be eligible to have their tax returns prepared for free.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program grew to 337 volunteers around the Rio Grande Valley who e-filed 4,825 tax returns in 2018. The free service is available to individuals and families with an income of $54,000 or less.
VITA aims to increase the amount of money flowing to the Valley through the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is for working people with low to moderate income.
“It’s the single-most effective federal anti-poverty program,” Traci Wickett, President and CEO of the United Way of Southern Cameron County, said, “but people have to file their tax returns to claim it.”
Wickett said the IRS initially approached the United Way in 2003 about kick-starting the VITA program because it estimated Valley residents were leaving millions in Earned Income Tax Credit money on the table. VITA clients collectively received $4.9 million through the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2018. The overall amount of tax refunds was $10.3 million in Cameron County.
High school and college students make up a large portion of VITA volunteers. The program has become an opportunity for young adults to gain experience conducting themselves professionally, with finances and earn a job credential.
“It’s a way to facilitate their hands-on experience (with) the work world,” said Wendy Hanson, United Way of Southern Cameron County vice president and Community Impact Director. “A value is you get a real eye-opener when you find out how much people make. It’s a reality check on what it takes to live.”
The VITA program also aims to steer people clear of commercial tax preparers who offer high-interest loans under the guise of “rapid refunds.”
Wickett said there’s a perception that folks who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit fritter away the money on non-essential items like large televisions, but that’s not the case among United Way clients. It provides a chance to get ahead, she said.
“They may use it to pay a debt or a medical bill,” Hanson said.
Learn more about the program or find a VITA site at www.unitedwayrgv.org .