Tax Day is Coming Up—Here’s How VITA Can Help

By Ellen Chang
Mar. 28, 2022
Preparing to file your taxes. (Photo credit): Gettyimages.com/Constantine Johnny

What you need to know when preparing to file your taxes.

Tax Day is April 18, which means, if they haven’t already, people should start preparing to file their taxes ASAP. With updates to many tax laws and questions over stimulus payments, unemployment, and other adjustments made by the IRS, this tax season may raise more questions than normal. Luckily, the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) works with qualified volunteers to provide free tax preparation services to low and moderate income families and individuals through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

People who are not comfortable filing taxes themselves or do not have access to online software programs can receive free, in-person help from tax professionals who volunteer their time through VITA. The VITA program typically works with individuals who earn $58,000 or less, people with disabilities, and taxpayers who speak limited English.

Cheyenne Chen, an East West Bank branch manager in Newark, California, began volunteering with MEDA last year because he wanted to give back to the community. Filing taxes also comes easily to him, and he plans to volunteer again in April to help Bay Area residents receive their tax credits and refunds.

Volunteers spend an eight-hour day learning about the latest tax laws and must pass an exam before they can be certified in personal tax planning, he said. All returns undergo a quality review process before they are filed. VITA volunteers often work with an interpreter, since English is a second language for some taxpayers.

Chen, who helped several individuals and families complete their tax returns in 2021, said the experience was rewarding, since some people feel “hopeless when it comes to filing taxes,” he said.

“I found it to be very interesting,” Chen said. “You can do something to really help them. I never thought I could help them in this way.”

The tax assistance program operates year-round, but the organization works with volunteer, certified tax preparers from March to April, said Ernesto Martinez, director of asset building programs at Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA).

“We can use their capacity to support us in being able to file taxes for low and moderate income families,” Martinez said. “We have trained and experienced volunteers to help the community at large.”

MEDA and its volunteers have a quick turnaround and are conducting in-person tax preparations this year, as long as individuals bring all the necessary tax documents. The tax filing program runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Saturday.

How taxpayers can plan ahead

Taxpayers should prepare for their appointment beforehand by collecting documents to provide their identities such as photo IDs, Social Security cards, and/or taxpayer identification number (TIN) letters, along with W-9s or 1099s.

“This is a huge opportunity for our low and moderate community members to access tax credits and refunds, and build their long-term stability and build generational wealth,” Martinez said.

Volunteer tax preparers can also assist taxpayers in obtaining their Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and tax extensions. An ITIN is a tax-processing number that is a nine-digit number that always begins with the number nine and is issued by the IRS. Undocumented workers who have been working in the United States can use an ITIN to file their taxes. Workers who are paid entirely in cash can still obtain an ITIN by estimating the amount of their income.

Filing for an ITIN helps taxpayers receive a tax refund. In addition, MEDA recommends being proactive and establishing a history of living and working in the U.S. for future immigration and paperwork. The tax paperwork would allow workers the possibility of receiving a Social Security number in the future in order to be eligible to receive funds from Social Security. Tax returns are also necessary when people are obtaining loans, applying for college, or applying for a mortgage.

Workers should bring identification such as a passport. After MEDA files the paperwork, it often takes six to eight weeks to receive an ITIN from the IRS. The IRS does not charge for an ITIN, and MEDA does not charge to file the paperwork for you.

Tax extensions can be filed for free via the IRS no matter what your income was in 2021. There are many reasons people file for extensions, including delays in receiving tax statements or living outside the U.S.

It’s important to note that filing an extension does not give you more time to make your tax payments. Taxpayers still must make their payments by April 18, 2022, to avoid interest and penalties. When you file for an extension, you are required to estimate your tax liability for 2021.

Taxpayers who owe the IRS money but cannot make the full payment immediately can apply for either a short-term payment plan or a long-term payment plan.

Taxpayers who have not filed their taxes can still seek help by calling (415) 209-5143 or go to GetYourRefund.org/MEDA.

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