Even if the year is over (and 2021 doesn’t start well), there is one more piece of 2020 that is on many to-do lists: filing income tax returns. There is some relief for Texans after the winter storms, however, when the Internal Revenue Service announced a statewide deadline extension and other tax breaks on Tuesday.
The recent disaster declaration, as well as the economic and personal impact of the coronavirus pandemic last year, mean that many taxpayers will have even more complicated taxes to file this year and next. With VITA San Antonio, individuals earning $ 55,000 or less can receive their taxes for free. VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.
Robin Hernandez, 26, worked in event coordination before COVID-19 closed that industry. He is unmarried and owns neither a house nor a business. So his taxes were always easy.
“A lot of factors came into play with COVID this year,” said Hernandez. In August he lost his job, received unemployment checks and found health insurance and care.
Not sure how to navigate the tax system this year, his mother, who used VITA as a child, asked Hernandez to check out the free program.
Because it was free, “I was a little skeptical,” he said. But it was easy, safe and “they give you everything you need.”
When his mother had her taxes done at VITA, she had to sit down with a volunteer tax advisor to complete her paperwork, just like someone at a private tax preparation firm would. For Hernandez, that process has changed because of the pandemic.
He called to find out more about the program and the information he needed to gather. Due to staff constraints, customers may need to print the correct forms and make copies of their documents, but they may also choose to use email.
When customers arrive at one of nine locations in various community centers and colleges, VITA staff outside greet them to ensure they are completing an admissions form and the correct documentation.
“I just put everything in one envelope … and just dropped it off,” said Hernandez, who filed his full return last week. The registration season started on February 12th. Taxes are typically collected on April 15, but the IRS extended the deadline to June 15 for businesses and individuals hit by last week’s storms.
“This is a very helpful resource for [low-income] Communities, ”said Hernandez of VITA. “I think a lot of people … don’t necessarily have the resources to learn how to do tax preparation themselves.”
This is exactly why VITA, an IRS sponsored program, was started more than 50 years ago. The San Antonio program began more than 10 years ago and is run by a coalition that includes the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar Counties, Catholic charities, the City of San Antonio, and around 30 other organizations.
The pandemic has hampered VITA’s ability to reach the low-income communities it serves, said Jason Alemán, director at United Way. “But there was never a moment of thinking that we wouldn’t.”
For the tax year 2018, the volunteers of the VITA coalition prepared over 32,000 tax returns at 23 locations. Last year, volunteers with three open locations were able to prepare more than 23,000 tax returns. Nearly 7,000 taxpayers received more than $ 15.8 million in tax credits.
The program can continue to operate thanks to the support of its partners, said Alemán. “It’s such a collaboration that there is no real ownership of it. … It’s just a kind of handshake. “
VITA offers additional post-tax services in its offices in the Guadalupe Community Center, St. Philips College and the Willie C. Velasquez Learning Center.
Every volunteer is trained and certified, he said. They will complete at least 20 hours of training and pass an IRS exam before they can prepare or file a tax return.
“For more complex [tax] In such situations, the tax advisor will definitely go to the taxpayer and go through the process with him, ”he said. The best way to get in touch with VITA is to call the United Way Helpline at 2-1-1.
A multi-year partnership with River City Federal Credit Union enables people using VITA to qualify for a refund anticipation loan based on how much they get back from the federal government, Alemán added.
Unlike predatory payday loans with high interest rates, these loans are interest-free and free for those who have used VITA.
“It helps people who are in immediate need,” he said. “There is no small print.”