The holidays are here. Yeah, I'm not ready either, but …
In this season of giving, many folks donate to charities. This year, much of the focus in on helping nonprofits that assist folks who've suffered through natural disasters, notably the deadly wildfires still burning across California.
Some folks also volunteer at their local charities.
Tasks range from the administrative — making sure year-end solicitations go out, accounting for the gifts, sending out tax-deduction receipts — to the more practical — working the soup kitchen line, delivering care packages to needy families, helping folks make it to their seasonal jobs so they can enjoy some much-needed year-end income.
Most volunteers give of their time and talents because they are committed to their favorite charity's cause.
In some situations, you might be able to claim a tax deduction for your volunteer efforts, but the real reason you do it is because you want to help.
If you find volunteering during the holidays satisfying, then the Internal Revenue Service has a way for you to expand the joy you get from helping into the new year. Specifically into the new 2019 year. The IRS is now accepting applications for volunteers at its annual community-based free tax preparation sites.
Decades of free tax help: You say you're not a tax pro. That you have enough problems, even with tax software, completing your own 1040 every year. That you'd never be confident enough to advise someone else on their taxes.
Not to worry. The IRS will train you so that you can be a volunteer at VITA and TCE locations and be able to provide accurate — and free — tax help for low-to-moderate-income families who need assistance preparing their annual returns.
The IRS and its VITA and TCE partners are old hands at this. The programs have been around for almost 50 years.
VITA, which debuted in 1969, assists under-served communities, such as low- and moderate-income individuals and limited English proficient taxpayers. In 2007, Congress finally OK'ed funds so that the IRS could establish a grant program to help community groups become a part of the tax help program.
TCE first appeared in 1978. This program provides tax counseling and return preparation nationwide to people who are 60 or older.
This year, the IRS awarded grants to 29 TCE and 249 VITA applicants. The TCE grants cover one year and the VITA grants cover two years. The IRS received 336 applications requesting $60.5 million.
Tax help partnerships: Every filing season, returning and new tax volunteers make an enormous impact in their communities at VITA and TCE sites nationwide, helping their neighbors fulfill their tax-filing responsibilities.
While the IRS provides training, the actual operations are handled by outside groups. Most of the TCE sites, for example, are run by the AARP Foundation's Tax Aide program. These sites typically work with taxpayers between January and the April tax filing deadline. Some volunteer tax help sites, however, are open year-round.
The two free tax-prep locations generally are located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations across the country.
They are open various days, nights and weekends, but the hours are flexible to meet the needs of volunteers and taxpayers. Volunteers generally serve an average of three to five hours per week.
Last year, more than 3.5 million returns were prepared by volunteers at VITA and TCE sites.
Now it's time to get folks to fill the volunteer spots at those free tax help sites during the coming tax-filing season.
Choose your tax volunteer role: Once you complete your training, you'll be hooked up with an organization that sponsors VITA and/or TCE sites in your area.
Still a little hesitant to help other fill out their actual returns, even after the IRS training? That's OK. There are other options.
Below is a look at the volunteer roles the IRS is looking to fill at free tax preparation sites.
Greeter/Screener — It's just what the title says. As a greeter/screener, you'll greet everyone visiting the site. This role is perfect for those who have no interest in preparing tax returns but love socializing and talking to people. You'll screen taxpayers to determine the type of assistance they need and confirm they brought all the necessary documents to have their tax returns completed. Tax law certification is not required if you are not answering questions about tax law.
Interpreter — As an interpreter, you'll provide language interpretation services to customers who are not fluent in English. Basic tax knowledge is helpful but not required for this position.
Tax Preparer —As a volunteer tax preparer, you'll provide free tax return preparation for eligible taxpayers using electronic filing software. Tax law certification is required for this volunteer role.
Quality Reviewer — As a quality reviewer, you will conduct a quality review of all tax returns completed by volunteer tax preparers, ensuring that every taxpayer receives quality service and an accurate tax return. Tax law certification is required for this volunteer role.
Tax Coach — As a tax coach, you'll work at a self-preparation site. While working at the site, you'll provide tax law assistance and help taxpayers navigate web-based, self-preparation software while they prepare their own tax returns. Tax law certification is required for this volunteer role.
Site Coordinator/Administrator — If you have excellent organizational and leadership skills, volunteering as the site coordinator/administrator may be the position that fits you best. The site coordinator acts as the primary resource for sharing knowledge of the program and assists with any issues that may arise. You'll develop and maintain schedules for all volunteers to ensure adequate coverage. You will also ensure that supplies and equipment at your site are stocked and operational. Tax law certification is not always required for this position.
Submit your volunteer application: See a volunteer tax role that interests you? You can get additional information and take the next steps by using the online Volunteer Signup form.
That will get you one step closer to becoming a VITA or TCE tax volunteer and giving back to your community.
Helping someone accurately file their taxes and possibly get a refund or pay less than they expected definitely is a gift worth giving any time of the year.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Free tax help for many filers at VITA, TCE sites
- Make sure you call the correct IRS phone help line
- High school senior's volunteerism essay offers a valuable tax lesson