Now that we’ve had a few weeks to recover from the madness of April 15th, I’ve had the chance to think back on what we’ve learned from operating our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance clinics this season.
The 8 VITA clinics that were operated by the Thomas Jefferson Area EITC Coalition helped more than 950 taxpayers file their returns and helped return more than $1.5 million to the local economy. That’s a tremendous impact for fewer than 100 volunteers!
If I had more space, I’d list each volunteer here one by one. Every single person who volunteered went through an intense training and certification process and then volunteered hours of time every week between January and April. This is no small thing! These amazing people came to us from Madison House, the U.Va. Law VITA program, the UVA Community Credit Union, and from all across the Thomas Jefferson Area community.
We each learned a lot about tax law, and a lot about people. One thing that surprised me the most is that even though almost everyone pays taxes every year, most people have lots of questions that go unanswered! Our volunteers don’t even attempt to answer questions about complicated investment and business taxes – that’s exactly why there are professionals who specialize in this! – but we did spend a lot of time with individuals who have simple tax returns and some really straightforward questions.
The taxpayers who I met with were grateful for the help preparing their taxes, but even more thankful to be able to ask simple questions and get some honest answers. One woman told me:
“Speaking as someone in her older years, sometimes I don’t know who to turn to. It is so helpful to have someone kind and knowledgeable who can help answer our questions and navigate the confusing rules of the IRS and taxes.”
Certainly our most frequent question was—you guessed it—when will I get my refund?
(Answer: 5-10 business days if you E-File your tax return and chose to have the funds directly debited to a bank account.)
Here are some of the other frequent questions we answered:
Why is my refund different from last year?
Every year that you pay taxes your refund depends on 3 things: your tax due, tax credits you can claim, and how much you already paid from pay withheld through the year. Any time one of these changes, so will your refund!
How do I know how much I have to pay next year?
There’s a handy-dandy calculator on the IRS website that can help you estimate how much tax you’ll have to pay next year.
This is especially important if you are working in more than one job or if you know your tax status might change next year – are you expecting a new child or know that an older child will file taxes independently next year?
Particularly given the rough economy, we saw a lot of families who took an extra job in 2009 but did not adjust W4 forms for both jobs to account for the extra income. Many people don’t know that you can and should update the W4 form on file with your employer any time that your income, filing status, or number of dependents changes. If you don’t, you could end up owing money when you file your taxes—which nobody likes.
What did you learn from preparing your taxes this season?
The Thomas Jefferson Area Earned Income Tax Credit coalition is a diverse group of local businesses, government, nonprofits and community volunteers working together to promote financial education and provide free tax preparation assistance to eligible families.
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