The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program operated by the Community Action Partnership of Staunton, Augusta and Waynesboro expanded services this year and with the help of over two dozen volunteers filed just over 250 federal and state returns. This service saved area consumers approximately $50,800 based on the average cost of $200 a return at a commercial preparation site.
Deb Koons, Earned Income Tax Credit Coordinator for CAPSAW, hopes that “residents continue to be savvy consumers by utilizing this free service in the future.”
Returns were prepared by trained volunteers and filed electronically. Program participants provided overwhelmingly positive reviews of the service. According to Anna Leavitt, CAPSAW Coordinator, the VITA program is an excellent example of a community taking action to strengthen economic security for residents. “The program relies on the donation of time, space and technology. Each of the three localities, school systems, Mary Baldwin College and area employers worked together to publicize and support this effort.”
Leavitt hopes to see the growth trend continue into next tax season allowing more tax payers an opportunity to fully utilize their returns. Volunteers completed training to become certified by the Internal Revenue Service as tax preparers. The volunteers are trained to file taxes for residents earning under $51,000 in taxable income and help them identify tax credits for which they are eligible. Common tax credits include the Earned Income Tax Credit, child and dependent care, education and child tax credits.
Services were expanded to include economic education opportunities. The financial education volunteers were trained through the Extension Office in cooperation with CAPSAW and the United Way of Greater Augusta. These volunteers will be available all year to provide individual and group based financial education opportunities. Leavitt explains that plans are underway to offer matched savings accounts to community members through the Staunton Creative Community Fund in the very near future. Leavitt believes “an active and growing VITA program is an important step in creating a community invested in financial education and in the growth of economic security for our region.”