All the recent focus on ACORN and its now-severed ties with the IRS also has produced more interest in the VITA, or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Apparently, some folks think that the few bad apples caught on the hidden ACORN videotapes represent the way the overall VITA services are provided. They don't.
My tax-blogging colleague taxgirl offers a fine argument for continuing the VITA program. As she notes, this IRS-supported program does a lot of good.
Through VITA, low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and less) individuals who need help filing their returns can get it at no cost.
Let's be honest. Too many of the tax laws are too complex and too many folks can't afford to hire a tax pro. Thanks to VITA, they don't have to worry about that.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program, also noted on the free tax help "flag" above, provides similar tax assistance to people aged 60 and older.
Lend a hand: And the IRS is always looking for ways to improve VITA. The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel has a standing VITA committee, through which the IRS gets taxpayer help to ensure the program does, and improves, its service to the millions of taxpayers who use it each year.
If you want to make sure that VITA, its reputation and its tax advice are above reproach, consider joining the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel when it asks for applicants next year.
Or get into the act before then and, as taxgirl suggests, become a VITA volunteer yourself. VITA sites typically are set up at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient, public locations.
As filing season nears, you can locate the nearest VITA site by calling the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. You also can get an idea of where 2010 VITA sites might be by checking out the IRS list of 2009 VITA grant recipients.
If you do volunteer, you'll probably come away with a very different impression of VITA than what's been generated by all the guilt-by-association talk in connection with ACORN.
And you'll also probably feel darn good about helping someone else do the right thing when it comes to filing their returns.