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Border FCU Helps Seniors through VITA
Monday, January 13, 2014 6:50 AM

Many senior members of credit unions have the ability to receive free tax preparation at one of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites within their communities. VITA is a nationwide IRS program designed to help low- and moderate-income taxpayers complete their annual tax returns at no cost. VITA sites generally assist people who make $51,000 or less or are eligible for earned income tax credits (EITC) or other low-income tax benefits.

The volunteers who assist seniors through VITA are certified by the IRS to help prepare basic tax returns free across the USA, like community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, malls, and some credit unions. The Gibbs branch of Border FCU in Del Rio, Texas is one such credit union, and they've been in the "VITA business" for nine years.

While Border FCU provides these services to seniors, their door is open to everyone in the community. In 2012, the credit union says they prepared 1,819 returns and, out of those, 608 taxpayers were over 55. Of those, 296 were 65 or older.

"Our oldest taxpayer in 2012 was 90 years old," said Gina McNeal, director of financial education at Border. "How amazing is that?"

McNeal strongly believes the success and growth of their program has been due to the professionalism and expertise of their VITA volunteers.

"Our volunteers take the time to explain the return to the taxpayers so that when they sign, they know and understand what they're signing for,” she added.

McNeal says new clients often say it's the first time someone has taken the time to explain the return to them. "They walk out happy and knowledgeable,” she continued.

McNeal reports that they see about 65 percent of VITA clients return, year after year.

"The VITA program is definitely a huge asset for our membership, as well as the community," she said. "Our numbers prove that this is a much-needed service. The demand is such that there have been times we've had to turn people away and ask them to come back the next day."

Just how much benefit does the VITA program provide?

"For tax year 2012, more than $3.7 million in refunds came back to our community,” she noted. “If the taxpayer was paying an average of $75 a return, we would have saved the taxpayers over $136,000 in preparation fees. For seniors alone, that amounts to nearly $46,000.”