The tax season is getting closer and people across the country are preparing for the arduous filing process. The season for filing individual income tax begins Friday February 12th and the income tax return must be filed by Thursday April 15th.
Some organizations are trying to make tax filing less daunting and less expensive. The Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership (CAPLP) is a not-for-profit organization based in Moorhead, Minnesota that combats poverty in communities by providing a variety of services. CAPLP recently opened offices in Breckenridge, Hawley and Barnesville, Minnesota. The local office is located at 311 Fifth St. in Breckenridge.
One of those free services is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which can save low-income individuals and families an average of $ 300 in tax preparation fees, said Alexa Dixson-Griggs, coordinator of CAPLP’s economic empowerment program.
VITA can serve families in Minnesota with incomes less than $ 50,000 per year or individuals with incomes less than $ 30,000.
“We’re trying to target low-income families and the reason is that it can be expensive to file returns – it can cost a few hundred dollars sometimes – and that’s money that can be used for other things like a car payment Food or clothes for the kids or whatever it is, “said Dixson-Griggs.
The service also traps people who might be deterred from filing because of the cost, Dixson-Griggs said. VITA volunteers are able to keep clients updated with the IRS and often help them get a higher return on investment.
“We know about certain tax credits that really affect the families we work with and serve, so we make sure they can get back any credits they deserve and get the maximum amount of money back,” said Dixson -Griggs said.
In 2020, VITA was able to help customers regain an average of $ 1,000-2,000 that they would otherwise have missed if they hadn’t submitted or tried to submit themselves, Dixson-Griggs said.
In order to prepare for the coming season, CAPLP is looking for volunteers for its VITA program. So far, the agency has signed up five volunteers for their free training at the Family Service Center in Moorhead, which began Tuesday, January 19th.
Dixson-Griggs said they want at least 10 available to help prepare taxes. No prior knowledge or training is required for people interested in volunteering. Dixson-Griggs says people can volunteer even if they miss initial training.
People who need help can call to schedule a virtual or face-to-face appointment. CAPLP works with any person or family to schedule an appointment with a VITA volunteer.
“We’re with you, virtual or in person, we’re available to answer those questions,” said Dixson-Griggs.
VITA differs from other programs in that it has a real person on the other end, as opposed to an online service like TurboTax, which only offers free help to a certain extent, Dixson-Griggs said. VITA, on the other hand, is completely free and will electronically submit full returns on site, she said. They will also keep the client’s tax returns for up to three years to relieve future work and stress.
“Everyone who files the tax return is a certified writer so we need to test this through the IRS. We need to be familiar with tax law and any tax changes that occur from year to year, ”said Dixson-Griggs.
To become a VITA Volunteer, call (218) 331-5962 or main office at (218) 512-1500. To schedule an appointment to file a tax return, call (218) 643-2888 for the Wilkin County office or February main office.