October 2012 -- Preparing taxes can be a daunting and expensive task for many of us, but thanks to a grant awarded this week it just got a whole lot easier for those who qualify.
Fifty-one locations – 29 in credit unions – across Montana will continue to offer free tax help at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites thanks to an $80,000 three-grant from the Internal Revenue Service.
|Jami Kirksey, MCUCD Program Support Coordinator and VITA Volunteer, finishes up with a taxpayer during the opening day of tax season in Butte last February. This VITA Site in Butte is one of two managed by voiunteer Pat Sorich.|
“Tax preparation is intimidating, especially for folks who have no idea how to do their own,” Rachael Milne, program manager at Montana Credit Unions for Community Development said. “Having someone in their community to do it for them and explain it is a load off.”
The average taxpayer in Montana spends $207 to have their taxes prepared, according to the National Society of Accountants. The grant provides this service to families and individuals for free if they earn less than $50,000 and have fairly straight-forward returns.
“This not only validates what we are doing with the program but it also provides support for free tax assistance across the state, especially to those rural communities that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity for these services,” Milne said.
MCUCD leads a statewide partnership of VITA providers working together to standardize practices and attract funding. Montana VITA partners include United Way of Yellowstone County, HRDC- Billings, Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana, the HRDC Bozeman, and Opportunity Link, Inc.
|Emily Guldborg, Assistant Manager at McCone County FCU and VITA Volunteer, helps a taxpayer prepare her first tax return in Wolf Point, MT. Emily traveled from Circle, MT, on a blustery Saturday in February to prepare taxes at Wolf Point FCU.|
The Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) in Bozeman has been active with VITA for the past three years. Tracy Menuez, with HRDC, said they are excited about the opportunity to expand their efforts to include tax preparation services.
“We are pleased to join the Bozeman area’s already well established VITA network and reach even more of our community’s families,” Menuez said.
Local volunteers are the backbone of all VITA site. Last year, nearly 176 volunteers assisted with 4,893 tax preparations.
Butte resident Pat Sorich has been a tax preparation volunteer for more than 20 years.
“Many people see the tax form and it overwhelms them,” she said. “I guess they have a preconceived notion that they are difficult and hard. I have the ability to do it and it’s a program that I believe in.”
Sorich said people are always happy to receive the free help and delighted to get extra credits they aren’t aware of. For example, there is a homeowner renter credit, Sorich said.
“It’s a state credit designed to help people get a credit on property taxes or rent if they are low-income,” she added.
Many sites are currently recruiting volunteer tax preparers to electronically file high quality returns helping taxpayers receive all eligible refunds and credits. Training is free and provided and no experience is necessary. Potential volunteers can contact Rachael Milne at 1-800-745-5546 x, 142 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The following communities are hosting sites and currently recruiting volunteers: Anaconda, Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Chester, Circle, Columbia Falls Cut Bank, Darby, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Eureka, Fairfield, Fort Belknap, Fort Benton, Glasgow, Hamilton, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Laurel, Libby, Livingston, Missoula, Red Lodge, Shelby, Whitefish, and Wolf Point.