This tax season, hundreds of individuals and families will have their taxes prepared for free and claim millions in refunds through the Tempe VITA tax site.
The tax program is open to individuals and families who made less than $55,000 in 2018; there are no income limits for seniors and people with disabilities. Tax services are available through April 13.
Last year, tax site staff and volunteers helped taxpayers complete about 1,200 federal returns with roughly $2.4 million in refunds. Those refunds can be life changing for families, said Diane Watkins, the Tempe VITA program coordinator.
“With the poverty rate in Tempe at about 20 percent, the tax site offers many benefits to our residents,” Watkins said. “They avoid the cost of going to a paid tax preparer and they receive the tax credits for which they are eligible, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“This enables our clients to pay medical and other bills, provide educational opportunities for themselves or children, and to build their savings and emergency funds,” she said.
As important, she said, the effort adds millions of dollars annually to the local economy.
The Tempe Community Council (TCC) opened the tax site in 2002 as part of the organization’s mission to address a wide range of human service needs in the city and connect those in need with those who care. The site has grown steadily each year, boosting the number of clients, tax returns and refunds.
“The Tempe VITA tax site positively impacts not only individual lives, but the community’s economy overall,” said Octavia Harris, TCC’s executive director. “The tax site is part of achieving our vision of caring for and about one another.”
Launched by the Internal Revenue Service, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) tax sites serve low- to moderate-income taxpayers nationwide. The sites are operated in partnership with nonprofits, city governments and public universities.
Funding for the Tempe tax site comes from the IRS, the City of Tempe’s Agency Review program, and other sources.
Tempe’s tax site focuses on reaching those who may not be taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for qualifying low- to moderate-income people who work. That credit can equal a refund in the thousands for individual taxpayers.
To reach even more clients in Tempe, the tax site partners with Arizona State University to help prepare returns for international students and participates in My Free Taxes, an online IRS program that allows clients to prepare their own returns.
Last year, 436 ASU students were assisted with their non-resident returns and 327 Tempe residents used My Free Taxes, which accounted for about $465,000 of the $2.4 million in refunds claimed through the Tempe tax site.
Tempe’s tax site is unique in that it combines tax preparation with asset education. Volunteer asset educators encourage clients to save through the savings bond program and connect them with community resources, everything from pet food assistance to job fairs to utility discount programs.
The education can set clients on an entirely new path. Last year’s asset education team responded to over 950 requests for human services resources, financial education, home ownership, and job search assistance.
Taxpayers can take advantage of walk-in and drop-off tax services. Limited appointments are also available. Tax services are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. The site is open 9 a.m. – noon Saturdays and 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Community Room at Gracie’s Village,1540 E. Apache Blvd. The site will be closed March 2-9 for spring break.
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