You've heard the old joke: the only sure things in life are death and taxes. And some people actually think twice about which they prefer.

Fear not! For thousands of central Iowans, United Way offers a free (and painless) way to get your taxes done: the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Taxpayers meeting certain income guidelines – about $58,000 per year or less for 2015—are eligible to have their tax returns completed and filed free-of-charge by volunteer tax preparers.

The volunteers pass stringent IRS certification, and every tax return is double-checked by a volunteer quality reviewer. 

Last year, out of nearly 6,000 tax returns filed by United Way VITA volunteers, fewer than 20 were returned by the IRS.

Those 6,000 tax returns put $8.5 million back into the pockets of hard-working central Iowans. And many qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the nation's largest anti-poverty program for working people.

Jim Elmer is a controller with the Principal Financial Group. But for the past 14 years, he's helped people maximize their tax refund as a VITA volunteer. "Even if you don't owe taxes, you may be eligible for the EITC.Check the VITA site for the documents you need, them come in and we'll make the process easy for you," he says.

VITA sites are located in Des Moines and surrounding communities, are open daytime, evening and weekend hours beginning in late January and continuing through the April 18 federal filing deadline. The VITA SuperSite is located in the Polk County RiverPlace building, 2309 Euclid Avenue, Des Moines.

VITA is one of the very best examples of volunteer service provided each year. We see throughout tax season the stream of people coming to our VITA sites, and how the kindness and expertise of the tax volunteers can transform an event as confusing and daunting as a tax return, and turn it into a positive experience, one that demonstrates the caring power in our community, and often transforms their financial situation for the better.

In a typical day, VITA volunteers will help young single mothers, help low-income elderly clients, often with health issues, continue to live in dignity, and help many immigrant families, new to this country, struggling to build a new life here, begin to understand our complex income tax system.

Check out WHO-HD's February 8 story featuring VITA volunteer Jim Elmer.

Read the March 9 Des Moines Register editorial about the Earned Income Tax Credit


About The Author: Holly Sagar

Holly Sagar is the program manager for United Way of Central Iowa's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.