FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program Improving Efficiency, Accuracy
VITA Program Saves Government $4 Million Annually - 1.3 Million Americans Receive Free Access to Quality Tax Experts
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), providing free tax preparation to low- and moderate-income taxpayers, continues to do an excellent job preparing accurate tax returns, according to a new Quality Statistical Sample (QSS) report prepared by the Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication (SPEC) department of the Internal Revenue Service’s Wage & Investment Division.
The new IRS summary report reinforces other research that the VITA program’s tough standards and training components have been a key to its growing success. A recent evaluation conducted by the IRS confirmed that during 2011, the accuracy rate for preparing individual 2010 tax returns rose two percentage points from last year to 85 percent.
Independent evaluations have consistently reported accuracy rates of VITA among the highest of all types of tax preparation services.
“VITA volunteers do an excellent job with preparing accurate returns, and the individuals and families who benefit from our services know they are working with experts who will guide them through a daunting process,” said Jackie Lynn Coleman, Senior Director of the National Community Tax Coalition as well as Vice President of National Programs for the Center for Economic Progress.
In a recent review of the program’s 2011 work, the National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC), the nation's largest, most comprehensive membership organization for community-based organizations offering free tax preparation assistance and financial services, defined the quality framework of the VITA program as compliance, efficiency, accuracy and affordability.
To ensure the highest quality standards are being implemented nationwide and to maintain consistently high-quality standards across the field, community VITA volunteers undergo extensive training and testing annually prior to serving taxpayers. Additionally, NCTC provides technical assistance on innovative strategies and disseminates information on the most promising practices in tax preparation to VITA sites across the country.
According to NCTC, more than 52,000 VITA volunteers prepare basic tax returns for low-income taxpayers with a focus on at least one specific underserved group, including persons with disabilities, non-English speaking persons, Native Americans, rural taxpayers and the elderly.
Using the most recent data provided by the IRS, community VITA sites prepared approximately 1.3 million tax returns across 5,700 sites during the 2011 tax filing season and brought back more than $1.9 billion in tax refunds to taxpayers whose average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) was $21,000.
“Our 2011 program review clearly shows that without the help of the VITA volunteers, thousands of low-income families would have lost millions in refunds at a time when they were already hurting in this economy,” said Coleman. “The complex tax code makes it difficult for many Americans to easily identify the tax deductions and credits they are entitled to take under the law. Our goal is to help hardworking Americans comply with the federal and state tax codes while at the same time getting all of the refunds they deserve.”
Over the last few years, NCTC, with its 2,100 members across the nation, has focused heavily on extending services to underserved populations and hardest-to-reach areas.
“The VITA field is committed to increasing electronic filing capacity, heightening quality control, enhancing training of volunteers and significantly improving the accuracy rate of returns prepared by VITA sites,” said Coleman.
VITA services also result in decreased administrative burden on the IRS and significant cost-savings related to annual tax return processing. For example, the IRS strongly encourages the electronic submission of annual federal tax returns which results in a savings of $3.10 per return over paper submissions.
Over 92 percent of returns prepared by community VITA sites are electronically completed, compared to only 69 percent of taxpayers who pay- or self-prepare their taxes. VITA’s primary use of electronic submission saves the IRS approximately $4 million in administrative costs every year.
During the 2011 tax filing season, community VITA programs saved taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) an estimated $80 million in paid preparer fees, money that went back into the hands of workers and local economies. VITA sites also serve as a critical portal for assisting low-income taxpayers from underserved communities with other asset development and financial education services.
“Furthering the best interests of taxpayers through access and affordability is the number one goal of the VITA program,” said Coleman. “We stand by the reputation of VITA as a safe alternative to the commercial tax preparation chains or untrained and unlicensed tax preparers who often target low-income filers during tax time.”
The National Community Tax Coalition is a national network dedicated to strengthening economies, building communities and improving lives through tax assistance and asset building activities that produce financial security, protect families and promote economic justice. For more information visit http://tax-coalition.org/.