ISU Extension Volunteers Offer Tax Help to Rural Iowans

AMES, Iowa — Low- and moderate-income Iowans can have their tax returns prepared for free by trained and IRS-certified volunteers at nearly 150 sites across Iowa. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach supports Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), one of the programs providing this service. ISU Extension and Outreach works with local partners to recruit and train volunteers and provide technical support for VITA sites in 42 rural counties, said Barb Wollan, an ISU Extension and Outreach family finance specialist.

“These volunteers are qualified to deal with most ordinary types of income, deductions and tax credits, ensuring accurate preparation of tax returns and saving money for taxpayers, averaging $100 or more per return,” Wollan said. “Taxpayers with income up to about $50,000 are served by VITA sites.”

One tax credit for which low- or moderate-income Iowans may qualify is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). To claim this credit, an individual must have earned income from employment, self-employment or another source and meet certain income-level, investment and other guidelines.

“We educate the volunteers about the EITC and other credits, so they can help Iowans who qualify to claim those credits and keep more of their hard-earned dollars,” Wollan said.

“By ensuring that residents claim the tax credits for which they are eligible, VITA sites and other outreach efforts help bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Iowa counties, benefitting entire communities as well as individuals and families. Research has shown the EITC to have greater impact in lifting people out of poverty than any other public program,” Wollan said.

“This flow of income from the Earned Income Tax Credit makes a substantial economic impact in local communities,” Wollan added. “EITC recipients tend to circulate their refunds through the local economy, creating a ripple effect many times the size of the original refund. This money strengthens neighborhoods, assists small businesses and spurs local economic development.”

In 2011, volunteers working at VITA sites in rural Iowa, who were trained by ISU Extension and Outreach, helped 1,875 low- and moderate-income Iowans complete income tax returns, Wollan said. Of these tax filers, 601 who qualified for the EITC received a total of $816,635 in the 42 counties that participated in ISU Extension-community partnerships to expand VITA programs in rural Iowa.

In addition to coordinating these VITA tax sites, ISU Extension and Outreach provides supplemental training and resources related to federal tax law, Iowa tax law and proper use of tax software; these resources are used by all IRS volunteers statewide, Wollan said. At the VITA sites in the participating rural counties, ISU Extension and Outreach specialists recruit volunteers, publicize sites, obtain equipment and supplies, and provide technical support.

ISU Extension and Outreach became involved with VITA in 2003 to bring free tax preparation into rural areas of Iowa where it previously was unavailable, Wollan explained. Extension and Outreach is part of a statewide network of organizations focused on enhancing the economic wellbeing of low- and moderate-income families through tax preparation and related educational outreach.

To find an IRS-sponsored free tax site, call 800-906-9887 or 211 in Iowa, or go to the ISU Extension and Outreach website, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/finances/personal/taxsites.htm. Most VITA sites in Iowa receive modest financial support for equipment, supplies and other needs from the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service, coordinated by Iowans for Social and Economic Development (ISED).

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