Utilize the resources on hand, VITA is here to help

Kaitlin Specht
News Writer

The United Way of Lancaster County’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) is being offered at Millersville University’s campus on Saturdays during the entire month of March. The Office of Experiential Learning and Career Management (ELCM) will be hosting this site at Stayer Hall. This is a volunteer program that provides free tax preparation services to those who make less than $50,000 per year.
VITA volunteers are IRS trained and certified to help file an individual’s federal, state, and local forms from the United Way of Lancaster County’s 20 different locations in the local region. According to the web site, the average client earns at least $12.5-thousand dollars and can save an average of $200 in tax preparation fees through VITA.
Steve O’Neill, VITA Program Coordinator, provided statistics from 2012 and from what the program currently has in for the 2013 tax season which ends sometime in April. Below is a prepared list from O’Neill comparing both results from the program:

2012:
Returns Prepared: 2,596
Money Refunded: $2.9 million
Money Saved in Tax Prep Fees ($200 avg.): $520,000
Median Income of VITA Clients: $12,500

2013 (so far):
Returns Prepared:1,550
Money Refunded: $2.2 million
Money Saved: $310,000
Millersville Returns (done at the site at MU): 60
Millersville Money Refunded: $80,000

This serves as a great volunteer opportunity for Millersville University students. Through the VITA program, students can be trained as tax preparers in order to help lower income residents receive free tax preparation services. O’Neill says that there are at least five Millersville University students who are currently volunteers for the program. He also mentioned internship opportunities for account and economics majors through Career Services.
Volunteers are needed during the day, evening, and during the weekend at the 20 different locations in Lancaster County. O‘Neill mentioned how this year there are 200 volunteers in the program within all of the locations provided.
“Looking ahead to next year, we would want to recruit about 15 additional volunteers,“ O’Neill says. Volunteers will also be able to take advantage of the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit and gain experience with tax preparation skills.
From November through January, volunteers are able to receive, according to O’Neill, tax training in a classroom setting from a local tax firm that partners with the United Way of Lancaster County. Online tax training is also available at the individual’s own pace. At the end, the individual will take an online certification test in order to qualify as a tax preparer.
“The earlier you start, the more you can break up training because it starts in the middle of January,” says O’Neill. In addition to the training available, from January through April volunteers will then be asked to commit 3-6 hours per week at a VITA site of their choice.
The VITA program began when The United Way of Lancaster County’s Women’s Council learned that taxpayers were unaware of their eligibility for valuable tax credits.
“This is the sixth year that we have been involved,“ states O’Neill, “They partially fund the program and got it started six years ago.”
Many working families were also not collecting their tax refunds. As a result, the Women’s Council began efforts to reach out to those families and individuals about the free opportunities available. The Lancaster Money in Your Pocket Coalition also helps to fund the program.
Unfortunately with the tax season coming to a close, volunteers will not be needed at this time until the following year, but free services will be offered to Millersville University students. All students will have the opportunity to receive free tax preparation services by calling (717) 291-5462 to schedule an appointment to see if they qualify for the VITA free tax preparation.
For information or questions regarding the VITA program or for a possible internship opportunity, feel free to contact Steve O’Neill at oneill@uwlanc.org. For additional information, visit uwlanc.org/volunteer-income-tax-assitance to learn more about the VITA program, or uwlanc.org/vita-volunteer to learn more about becoming a volunteer.