United Way looking for VITA volunteers
Tax Preparer - Assist VITA taxpayers with preparing tax returns and answer tax law questions
Greeter/Screener - Greet taxpayers, ensure they have the necessary documents and send them to an appropriately certified preparer
CA$H Adviser - Screen interested VITA clients using an online tool for benefits and services that they may qualify for
Most people aren't even thinking about tax returns yet, but now is the time United Way of Yuma County starts preparing for the upcoming tax season.
The nonprofit organization is looking for volunteers tax preparers, greeters and CA$H advisers for its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Volunteers will be trained and certified, and the only real requirement is that they are able to use a computer.
Through the program, individuals and families making under $50,000 can have their taxes prepared for free. The goal of VITA is to ensure that customers receive all of the tax credits that they qualify for and avoid excessive fees or predatory tax preparers.
In 2012, between all four sites, 41 people volunteered, more than 1,000 people received free tax preparation, and over $2 million was returned to families in the community.
For 2013, United Way will have five sites in Yuma, Somerton and San Luis and hopes to have even more volunteers and clients, “but we need your help,” said Rema Shebaro, VITA assistant coordinator.
Tax preparers will assist VITA taxpayers with preparing tax returns, answer tax law questions that taxpayers may have, discuss with taxpayers which tax credits they may qualify for and ensure that they claim all credits.
Volunteers may serve in the evenings or on weekends, for an hour at a time or all day long.
“We want them to commit to three hours a week at least throughout the tax season, from the end of January to April 15,” Shebaro said.
In addition, volunteers have the convenience of choosing their VITA site.
Volunteers become certified tax preparers, which can benefit both their professional and personal lives.
“It's a good skill to have and it could be beneficial in a future career. It looks good on a resume but the emphasis should really be on wanting to help people,” Shebaro said.
She noted that having their taxes prepared through VITA can save a family hundreds of dollars in preparation fees and return thousands of dollars in tax credits back to their pockets.
No previous experience is necessary. IRS-developed tax law training will be provided free for all volunteers, and taxes are prepared through an “easy-to-use” online program.
Volunteers must complete and sign a Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement, attend tax law trainings and certify to at least the basic level of tax law, although higher levels are recommended.
Training will take place in December or the beginning of January. Each site coordinator will train on-site. The schedule will be flexible, with trainings either in the evenings or weekends, Shebaro said.
Volunteers are also protected by the Volunteer Protection Act.
“As long as they prepare a tax return within their level of training and they don't knowingly include false information, or if it's an honest mistake, they won't get in trouble,” she explained.
Don't want to prepare taxes? Yumans and winter visitors can also volunteer as greeters or CA$H advisers. In these roles, they will still help Yuma families but they will not prepare taxes for clients.
Greeters will greet clients as they enter and will ensure they have brought all the necessary paperwork and documents. They will maintain a sign-in sheet and assist taxpayers with filling out the intake/interview form. They will also discuss taxpayers' needs to establish the scope of their return and ensure that they are sent to an appropriately certified preparer.
Greeters must also complete and sign the Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement and attend a greeter/screener training.
In the new program CA$H, which stands for Creating Assets, Savings and Hope, advisers will screen interested clients while they wait for their taxes to be done. Using an online tool, CA$H advisers will determine whether a client qualifies for government benefits or services and explain the application process to them.
“Clients will be asked questions about their finances and living situation. It will then print out a list of services they may qualify for, such as food stamps or utility assistance. Perhaps they want to get their GED; it will tell them where to do that,” Shebaro noted.
“It figures out what their needs are and how to get the resources they need,” she added.
Volunteers CA$H advisers do not need tax training, but they must still attend a one-day training and be at least 18 years old.
For more information on VITA or volunteering, contact United Way of Yuma County at 928-783-0515.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.