How to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Tax professional assisting tax payer.
Becoming a volunteer income tax preparer can be a valuable and rewarding experience.
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Most people dread doing their taxes -- it's right up there with getting a root canal. However, for those with a bit of a financial background, preparing income tax returns can be an interesting challenge, like a puzzle, to keep the mind fresh and active.

If you don't see what all the dreaded fuss of preparing taxes is about, you may be the perfect person to volunteer income tax assistance. Free income tax preparations are provided by the IRS and volunteer organizations for low-income people, the elderly and the military [source: IRS].


Maybe you used to be a paid preparer, but you've retired. Or maybe you have no experience in filing at all -- either way, volunteer income tax assistance programs will teach you how to prepare returns, often catering to your level of expertise, whether that's a simple return or a complex one with deductions and pensions to calculate.

In most cases, however, the training is less intense than what most paid preparers receive, allowing the situations to be less complicated, so don't worry if you don't know all the ins and outs of tax law. Most volunteer programs include access to training materials and workbooks for questions that might arise during the filing process -- not to mention the fact that you're most likely working with others who can help if you become stuck.

Volunteering income tax assistance is a very valuable and much-needed use of your time. You can help low-income families get the most money back that they can, or assist elderly people who might not otherwise be able to file the returns on their own. If you have the interest, these programs have the power to train you.

Read on to learn about the different volunteer income tax assistance programs and how they work.


Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Programs

Depending on who you are interested in helping, there are a few different volunteer income tax assistance programs out there.

The most common, the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, provides income tax preparation for people with low or moderate incomes of up to about $40,000. In addition, there is also the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program, which is geared toward people who are 60 or older, as well as the Armed Forces Tax Council (ARTC) program for military personnel and their families [source: IRS].


When searching for a volunteer opportunity, keep in mind that you might not get your first pick, for example, there might not be an ARTC program volunteer office near you. Each tax assistance program will have different requirements of its volunteers and the training programs will vary. Whether you have a bit of tax background -- or even none at all -- you can still be a volunteer, though keep in mind that having a background will certainly help [source: Wasilewski]. New volunteers may shadow or be paired up with an experienced volunteer throughout the process in order to assist with any questions or complications that arise.

Though it varies depending on the tax assistance program and site, many will have a training course that involves take-home workbooks, followed by a week of classroom training to review key points and important information. And the training course will end with you taking a proficiency exam. There are three basic exams for most preparers -- basic (simple returns), intermediate (more detailed returns, including itemized deductions), and advanced (complex situations, like pensions) [source: Wasilewski]. There is also a separate military and international test, but those are only completed in special circumstances.

Be prepared to devote several months to volunteering each year -- training can start as early as December, with filing going from February to tax day: April 15. And even if you've done taxes before -- whether through a volunteer program or as a paid preparer -- you'll most likely have to complete the training and tests each year to stay abreast of the latest updates to tax law [source: Wasilewski].

Becoming a volunteer income tax preparer can be a valuable and rewarding experience. To learn more, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • IRS. "Free Tax Return Preparation For You by Volunteers." (Accessed 4/25/09),,id=107626,00.html
  • Monroe United Way. "2009 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) and Earned Income Credit (EIC)." (Accessed 4/25/09)
  • Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. "Volunteer Income Tax Program (VITA) Directory." (Accessed 4/25/09)
  • San Antonio Community Initiatives. "VITA." (Accessed 4/25/09)
  • VITA Volunteers. "Volunteer Info - About Us." (Accessed 4/25/09)
  • Wasilewski, Thomas. Tax-Aide Certified Counselor. Personal Interview. (April 21, 2009)