FIRST PERSON: Caring for us – United Way Free Tax Prep volunteers go the extra mile to see your taxes are prepared, filed

Filing your taxes can be difficult. VITA volunteers help make it easy,

Filing your taxes can be difficult. VITA volunteers help make it easy.

Why can it seem so complicated to do your own tax preparation at tax time? Does tax jargon on certain withholdings or calculations prove to be too much? Do new items related to health insurance or other changes to the tax code make the whole process feel too complex? Or maybe it’s just a matter of finding uninterrupted time to complete the exercise of filing your own return.

It’s no secret that millions of families are finding it frustrating to file their own federal tax returns. During tax season, calling – and reaching – the right person at the Internal Revenue Service can be tricky because of the huge volume of people seeking a wide variety of information at the same time.

I had tax questions, and I knew it would be tough to get my questions answered if I went “the traditional route.” I also knew my tax refund could be delayed if I chose to file a paper return, so I decided to go through United Way’s Earned Income Tax Credit volunteers. I know they are knowledgeable and also run a “no scam zone” service, filing my taxes free of charge.

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The Hickory Ridge Mall hosts one of VITA’s free tax services, on the south side of the mall.

There are sites all across the Mid-South, with SuperSites in the Raleigh Springs Mall, Southland Mall, and Hickory Ridge Mall.

As I walked in the Hickory Ridge Mall, I remembered the days when it was once the most popular mall and shopping center in Memphis. There are still some businesses engaged in work, but it may be some time before the mall will be said to be fully rebounded. I asked a security guard where the United Way Free Tax Prep station was located, followed his directions and found the VITA volunteers.

As I walked in, I was greeted promptly and was asked to fill out a small form at the front table. I took a seat next to three others who were ahead of me and waited. I arrived a few minutes before closing time.

I noticed people being helped at three different tables. After a few minutes, I saw one of the VITA volunteers walk over to the entrance and start to lower the gate. It was closing time.

As the other tax filers were leaving (thanks to the Free Tax Prep site’s quick service), I noticed a woman who was hurrying to the gate, who had obviously arrived too late to get in before closing time.

“Is this where United Way’s free tax filing service is? Am I at the right place?” she asked, looking right at me.

I replied, “Yes ma’am, but I think they are closing.”

Signs are everywhere to direct you to get your taxes filed for free.

Signs are everywhere to direct you to get your taxes filed for free.

She was clearly disappointed. She had come a long way apparently, and now she faced having to go back home without getting her taxes filed.

A Free Tax Prep volunteer who overhead our conversation approached her from inside. “I’m sorry ma’am but we closed a few minutes ago,” she said.

“My taxes will not take too long,” the woman said. “Are you sure you can’t help me today? This is the only time I can get my taxes done.”

The VITA volunteer looked around. After seeing that all but a few of the people who had come to get their taxes done were already completing the process, she thought for a moment, raised the gate and said,

“Okay ma’am. Come on in. We would be glad to help you.”

After seeing this, I considered what I had witnessed. These are volunteers – and highly trained volunteers with a special skill in their knowledge of the tax system. It’s a blessing to our community that they are helping in the first place, and here we see how they go above and beyond, staying late to help a local citizen have her taxes filed.

In the end, my taxes were prepared and electronically filed and my questions were answered with expertise, and all for free. This year, I get to keep every cent of my tax refund without paying anything in fees or charges. That was great, but the most rewarding experience I had that day was seeing how patient and kind the volunteers were to us tax filers.

As I left, I asked myself one question – why would anyone in the Mid-South subject themselves to going to one of those shady tax organizations where they might fall prey to a predatory lender, possibly be intentionally misled, and be put in a precarious financial situation with the IRS when they could go to a United Way Free Tax Prep site?

These knowledgeable volunteers can help you get the most money back from your tax returns. They care about you. They also care about their work. Go see a United Way Free Tax Prep volunteer site today!

Call the 2-1-1 help line (alternate number 901.415.2790) during normal business hours to find the site in your area, and for information about what documents to bring to get your taxes prepared and filed.

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