VITA seeks volunteers for upcoming tax season

The official start of tax season is less than a month away, a fact that has Bill Gilleland eyeing his calendar with greater frequency as the weather grows colder.

Gilleland, a quality assurance specialist at the Davidson County Department of Social Services by day, spends several months a year helping low-to-moderate income residents in Davidson County take advantage of the tax breaks available to them through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program."There's kind of an instant gratification to it," Gilleland said of his VITA work. He said he gets a thrill every time he helps a struggling family by pointing out available deductions on their taxes that add up to more money in their pockets.

As VITA rolls into its fourth season, Gilleland and the volunteers who make the program possible are seeking like-minded people to help with the effort and share in that feeling, even as they try to raise awareness about the program among the area residents who stand to benefit from it.

Since 2002, the IRS-mandated program has helped low-to-moderate income households with their tax returns at no charge, maximizing deductions and ensuring taxpayers get an accurate picture of both what they owe and what they're entitled to under the tax code. Households with incomes in the $40,000 range or lower are encouraged to take advantage of the program.

Davidson County VITA service will be available in seven sites starting the last week in January, including all five branches of the Davidson County Public Library, Davidson County Community Action and the Davidson Medical Ministries Clinic. Gilleland will use 25 to 30 volunteers to staff six of those sites, for a total of roughly 660 hours.

Gilleland said he has already recruited a few DSS workers to help out, but he's hoping there are Davidson County citizens willing to lend a hand between January and April. A professional tax background is not required, he said, but some experience would be preferable.

"It'd probably help if they had done their own tax returns for several years," he said, also noting that comfort working with computers would be a plus.

Volunteers can expect to complete an online IRS course and a written test before beginning work on-site.

Gilleland said he's hoping to get the word about VITA out early this year to encourage eligible people who might otherwise pay for the service. Since VITA won't start up until several weeks into tax season, many people eager for their returns may opt to pay for a professional firm to complete their return, many of which are already advertising Christmastime advances. Those advances, while generally immediate, often come with large interest rates and hidden fees that devour the better part of the tax return, Gilleland said.

If people who take advantage of VITA sign up for direct deposit to their bank accounts, returns generally only take about two weeks.

Gilleland noted that Tax Counseling for the Elderly was also seeking volunteers to help prepare returns. That program, which focuses on tax returns for those with complicated pensions and other concerns, will also have local sites. Interested parties should contact Steve Graf at 495-2510 for more information.

To volunteer with VITA, contact Gilleland at 236-3037.

Glen Baity can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or glen.baity@the-dispatch.com.

want to help? To volunteer with the Volunteer Income Tax Return Preparation Assistance program, contact Bill Gilleland at 236-3037. To volunteer for the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, contact Steve Graf at 495-2510.

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