Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and brings to light their quiet contributions.
Tax season can be stressful for anyone, but there’s an added stress for people who can’t afford to pay someone to prepare their taxes for them.
That’s why volunteers like Terry Mills spend much of their time throughout the months of February through April preparing tax returns for free for people who need it.
People making less than $54,000 per year have the option of getting their taxes prepared for free by an IRS-certified volunteer through the VITA program, which has 10 different locations in Utah County. Those sites are staffed by about 60 local volunteers, including accounting students at local universities and community members who go through a certification process.
The program is available from Feb. 1 through April 15, and serves a wide-ranging variety of clientele, said Claire Warnick, VITA coordinator for United Way of Utah County. Senior citizens, people with disabilities and people without English language proficiency are common recipients of the services. About 4,000 people are helped annually in Utah County.
Terry Mills, the site coordinator for the VITA program in Lehi, has been volunteering with the program for years, after retiring as a data processing manager with the state. He originally started volunteering his time to give himself something to do, but has since found it to be one of the most rewarding things he’s done.
Mills often knows the people who come in to have their taxes prepared, who have kept coming back year after year.
There are often moms who have just been through a divorce, Mills said, who had never had to prepare their own taxes before. Many people come in apprehensive or uneasy because they have little understanding about how taxes work. He also sees many elderly people who use the service to maintain some financial privacy from their families.
“This time of year is hard on people, because they are dealing with new tax laws, they’re scared, and they know they have to do it but they need help and don’t have a lot of money to get help from other places,” Mills said.
Oftentimes, Mills said you see the money a person is living on and wonder how they do it.
“So when you’re able to get them some money back, especially those young mothers who are trying to raise three or four kids by themselves, it makes it all worthwhile. That’s what keeps me coming back.”
April is the busiest time of year for the volunteers, as many people who procrastinated scramble to get in before tax day on April 15. Those who were expecting large tax returns are often the first people in in February, Mills said.
Most of the time, people set appointments over the phone or online, and are then helped by one of the volunteer tax preparers. Site supervisors like Wells then check the returns for errors and submit them to the IRS for approval.
Warnick said the program already has most of its slots filled up until tax day, but that people can still file their taxes for free online at http://www.myfreetaxes.com if they qualify. Those looking to learn more about the VITA program in Utah County can visit http://www.unitedwayuc.org.