VISTA Volunteer Makes Tax Season Simple

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One of the scariest times of the year is tax season. For families with low incomes and individuals with language barriers it can be even scarier. Some do not have the know how or confidence to file a correct income tax return, but cannot spare the money it costs to get it professionally prepared. Many times it is friends, family, or friends of friends with no formal training that prepare the returns at a subsidized rate.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is a national program that was created to aide these taxpayers in getting free certified tax preparation. In a partnership between Arizona Community Foundation and the United Way of Pinal County this program has been brought to Pinal County.

Until 2008 residents of Pinal had limited options for help. Since then Ricardo Banuelos, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, has been busy building partnerships, recruiting and training volunteers, and marketing the program to the eligible population. In one year the program expanded from one site and 49 people served to 16 regular and ad hoc locations and 305 taxpayers served. "One of our taxpayers we helped did not speak English and had stopped filing an income tax return because he misunderstood the filing requirement," explained Ricardo. "He also had an outstanding balance which he knew he couldn't pay off all at once. He hoped that by not filing he could put off the payment.

Fortunately, he came into a VISTA site in April and spoke with a bilingual VITA volunteer. The volunteer informed him that he qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit and that he could reduce his IRS balance by $4,000 if he filed his backed taxes. The volunteer also offered advise on paying off the remaining balance. The taxpayer was extremely thankful for the generosity and the reduction in balance." Ricardo continues to work to increase site availability, recruit volunteers and partners, improve service delivery, and increase taxpayers served. His goal is to reduce poverty in Pinal county by increasing the incomes and building wealth.

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