The VITA Initiative: Changing Lives

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There’s a lot of great statistics showing the impact of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in Northern Arizona this year (and we’ll get to them soon), but sometimes one person’s story perfectly encapsulates why we do what we do.

This year, our assistance helped an incredible local senior citizen. She came to one of the United Way VITA site in tears with three years of income tax returns to file. When asked why she hadn’t filed previously, she said the process had become overwhelming for her and she didn’t know where to turn.

With the help of VITA, she was able to access free help to file her returns along with an “offer-in-compromise” to the state and federal government to take care of the previous years’ tax returns. The result: both the state and IRS accepted the offers, allowing her to resolve her tax issues for pennies on the dollar.

This is just one of the stories behind the 2,866 returns that the United Way of Northern Arizona VITA program prepared on behalf of eligible residents of Coconino, Apache and Navajo counties this year.

These filings resulted in more than $4 million in refunds, including almost $1.7 million in Earned Income Tax Credits. That is money that stays in the community and helps these families sustain financial stability.

We are particularly pleased with the numbers outside of Coconino County, where we saw a 35% increase in the number of families helped. And more VITA clients throughout Northern Arizona were assisted virtually this year through the increasingly popularity Scan2Go option.

The Scan2Go model allows volunteer to prepare taxes that have been scanned into a secured and encrypted system. It means the tax filer doesn’t have to be present during the process, saving them time, and volunteers have the flexibility of preparing tax forms from their homes or at one of our VITA tax sites. Of the 2,866 returns filed through VITA, almost half (1329) were done through Scan2Go and our goal is to have 75% of the VITA returns prepared virtually next tax season.

VITA originally began in the early 1970s on the campus of a California college as a way of helping low- and moderate-income taxpayers navigate through the tax return process while giving accounting students a powerful hands-on learning experience.

The program quickly grew from a group of students in one community to a nationwide initiative that has now served millions. VITA volunteers receive training and are certified by the Internal Revenue Service. This year 82 volunteers donated thousands of hours to assist families throughout Northern Arizona.