HANCOCK COUNTY — A United Way program to provide free tax preparation to people in need expands to Hancock County this year.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) in Hancock County will offer online and in-person tax filing services at locations in Hancock County for taxpayers who earned $66,000 or less in 2017. The program, sponsored by the IRS, is part of United Way’s goal of reducing the number of financially unstable households in the community, officials said.
United Way of Central Indiana has coordinated the tax assistance program since about 2001, said Lauren Rochester, community impact manager. The agency’s goal is to expand VITA to its entire six-county area; Hancock County has been chosen as the area for expansion this year, she said. Some 12 dates are scheduled so far in February and March at sites in Greenfield and Fortville; the sessions are appointment-only to make sure everyone is served, said United Way volunteer coordinator Jeannie Roberts.
Those volunteering their time to help residents file their taxes go through training before being cleared to meet with taxpayers; however, many of those offering their service already work as tax professionals, organizers said.
The average Indiana tax return is about $2,400, Rochester said. This program allows those who qualify to avoid the costs of working with a tax preparation business and to make sure they’ve claimed all their relevant credits and exemptions, she said.
“(VITA) puts money back in their pockets,” Roberts said. “Any amount of money they can get back and know their taxes have been taken care of is reassurance to those people.”
There’s a need for tax preparation for people who can’t afford to spend the rates for services at other businesses, Rochester said. And often, people are intimidated by the prospect of filing their taxes themselves.
“We see people lined up outside of our community centers every year,” she said. “VITA is a program that’s asked about all over our region, and we want to serve as many people as we can.”
Some 7.3 percent of county residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to that same data, the county’s median income is $68,449, not far above the cutoff for the program, Roberts noted.
United Way has held two volunteer training sessions, gathering about a dozen volunteers, said Hancock County site coordinator Andrea Dejanovich. Organizers hope to schedule one more training session to train a total of 20 volunteers, but another session hasn’t been scheduled at this time, Roberts said.
Volunteers receive 12 to 15 hours of training, either online or during an in-person volunteer training session, before helping individuals file their state and federal taxes, Roberts said. There are also volunteer opportunities for individuals looking for a less intensive role — the sessions need greeters and people to help clients check in, she said.
Because this is the first year for the program in Hancock County, those who are comfortable with using the internet are urged to use the online option, myfreetaxes.com, to file their taxes, Dejanovich said.