SAN ANTONIO – The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is operating nearly two dozen sites helping low- and moderate income taxpayers prepare their returns for Uncle Sam.
"It can be nerve-wracking," said Crystal Leal, a student who was among the first to use the service this year at the Guadalupe Community Center.
VITA is an IRS-sponsored program where nonprofit and business volunteers help their neighbors.
Alida Calderon was using VITA for the first time instead of paying a tax preparer.
"Last year I spent $300. This time, nothing." she said.
The assistance is free for households and individuals earning $60,000 or less last year.
"I think it's a lot easier, and for them to do it for free is pretty good," said Denise Amezquita, who has used VITA a few times.
The purpose of VITA is to help low and moderate income families become more financially stable.
Last year, local volunteers prepared more than 34,300 tax returns, generating $55 million in refunds.
Leal is getting one of those refunds this year. She said she is grateful to have the help so she doesn't have to hire someone or attempt to file on her own.
"They're more informed on the policies and the credits you can get. I'm not going to be too familiar with them," she said.
One of those credits is the EITC, or earned income tax credit. According to the IRS, one out of five people eligible to claim it does not. Depending on income, marital status and the number of children, the EITC can be thousands of dollars.
Volunteer Steve Goldberg, one of the 900 volunteers, said it is rewarding to help people. He recalled a young couple with a baby getting a much larger refund than they ever dreamed because of the tax credits for which they qualified.
"They had never had anything like that before," he said. "She said, 'I can pay all my bills.'"
VITA files returns electronically and refunds are typically made within a week.
The locations and hours for the sites can be found at www.VITASA.org or residents can call through the United Way at 211. Some of the sites also offer an express service where people can drop off their paperwork and return later.
Filers need to bring certain documents with them:
• Valid photo I.D
• Social Security Card or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) for all members in your family
• All W-2 Forms
• If filing jointly, your spouse must be present
• Copy of prior year tax return (if applicable)
• 1099 Forms (if applicable)
The sites will be open through April 18, the date returns are due.