“The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax.” — Albert Einstein

Oh, Albert, you took the words right out of my mouth. Nothing in this world confuses me quite like preparing my income tax return…Not putting together an IKEA crib, not the plot of “Inception” not Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” not even the marriage of Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts!

What about you? Get confused, clammy, or catatonic when filling out your income taxes? Want some (free!) help? Well, if your individual or household income was $51,000 or less in 2012, you can generally get free help with your basic income tax return preparation through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).

What is VITA?

VITA is a cooperative effort between the IRS and individual states to provide free tax help to low and moderate income individuals. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. Where applicable, these volunteers also screen individuals for special tax credits such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). By some accounts, visiting a free VITA site instead of using a paid tax preparer saves each filer an average of $150. That’s enough money for an IKEA crib and a copy of “Inception” on Blu-Ray!

Who qualifies for VITA?

To qualify for VITA, your individual or household income from 2012 must be $51,000 or less. Even if you meet this income requirement, you might not qualify for VITA if your tax return is complex (see the next question for more information).

What types of tax returns does VITA prepare?

VITA only helps prepare simple federal and state tax returns. More specifically, VITA will generally help qualified individuals prepare the following tax forms:

  • 1040EZ
  • 1040A with Schedules 1, 2, 3, and EIC
  • 1040 with Schedules A, B, C-EZ, EIC, and R
  • Form 1040V (Payment Voucher)
  • Form 1040ES (Individual Estimated Tax Payment)
  • Form 2441 (Child and Dependent Care Credit)
  • Form 8863 (Educational Credits)
  • Form 8812 (Additional Child Tax Credit)

Typically, VITA sites will not help individuals prepare these types of tax forms:

  • Schedule C (Profit or Loss From a Business)
  • Schedule D (Complicated and Advanced D’s)
  • Schedule E (Rental Income)
  • Form SS-5 (Request for a Social Security Number)
  • Form 2106 (Unreimbursed Employee Business Expenses)
  • Form 3903 (Moving Expenses)
  • Form 8606 (Nondeductible IRA)
  • Form 8615 (Tax for Children Under 14 with Investment Income)
  • Tax returns for individuals who are married but are filing separately

When does the VITA program start? Where are the VITA sites? Do I need an appointment?

Most VITA sites are open from late January/early February to April 15. VITA sites are typically located at central locations in the community such as community centers, libraries, churches, shopping malls, and retirement homes. To find a VITA site, either call 1-800-906-9887 or use the online IRS VITA Locator Tool and follow the prompts to enter zip code and the distance you are willing to travel. When I used this online tool for my hometown of Miami, FL 33131, I found that there are 59 VITA sites within 25 miles of my location (see the screenshot below). The VITA Locator Tool will also list the specific dates and hours of operation for each VITA site location and whether you need an appointment (some VITA site locations accept walk-ins whereas as others require appointments).

 

What do I need to bring to my VITA site?

According to the IRS, you need to bring the following items to your VITA site:

  • Proof of identification (picture ID)
  • Social Security Cards for you, your spouse, and dependents or a Social Security Number verification letter issued by the Social Security Administration or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letter for you, your spouse and dependents
  • Proof of foreign status, if applying for an ITIN
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse, and dependents on the tax return
  • Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc from all employers
  • Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)
  • A copy of last year's federal and state returns if available
  • Proof of bank account routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit, such as a blank, voided check
  • Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider’s tax identifying number (the provider’s Social Security Number or the provider’s business Employer Identification Number) if appropriate
  • Also, to file taxes electronically on a married-filing-joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.