Community Impact Financial Stability Pathway How one volunteer helps her community save during tax season
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Title Financial Stability Pathway

How one volunteer helps her community save during tax season

Credits. Claims. Deductions. Dependents.

For many in our community, filing taxes is complicated, exasperating and expensive. So, during tax season, Elizabeth Roth volunteers her time to help low-income and at-risk taxpayers navigate the complex world of tax filing.

For the third consecutive year, Elizabeth will participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) free tax prep program, a nationwide initiative in which IRS-certified volunteers prepare tax returns for individuals and families earning less than $66,000—all at no cost.

“A few years ago I was looking for seasonal work and looked in to jobs at tax preparation chains in the city,” Elizabeth says. “I enjoy doing my own taxes and customer service, so it seemed like a good fit. However, the model of those companies did not sit well with me. Front line preparers are not paid great, and customers are charged high fees for relatively simple returns. I heard an ad for VITA on the radio and decided that my time was better spent volunteering and helping my community keep their full tax return in their pocket.”

Last year, United Way’s VITA volunteers completed 14,390 returns, helping taxpayers save more than $3.9 million in tax preparation fees and bringing more than $17.7 million in federal refunds back to the community. This work is impossible without volunteers.

Elizabeth, a Pennsylvania native, is the Be Well at NPL program coordinator at Nashville Public Library. With a warm, ear-to-ear grin and eyes that beam, she is a people person in the truest sense. She continues to volunteer because the VITA program connects to her neighbors in a profound, attainable way.

“Volunteering for VITA is such a tangible way to have an impact,” she says. “You can literally count how many people you have helped and the dollars they were able to save. What I love most are the personal interactions I get to have with each individual and family.”

Elizabeth understands that one-on-one time discussing finances can often be uncomfortable for clients. Money is a tricky subject to maneuver.

“Sharing your income and life situation with a stranger is a vulnerable thing, so I really value the trust that people place in me. Everyone is so appreciative of this service and they let you know it. And they let you know it again when you run into each other months later at the library or grocery store!”

VITA’s greatest need is volunteers. And much like Elizabeth, many begin with no prior tax prep experience. Volunteers receive free tax training from IRS-trained instructors and can serve in a variety of roles. If there’s one requirement, it’s a willingness to learn and share knowledge with taxpayers.  

“Tax preparation feels overwhelming for so many people, especially those without access to the internet and whose literacy skills are low,” Elizabeth says. “I value how the VITA program believes that one community member can help another, without having to get an accounting degree or years of training. I appreciate too that VITA sites connect individuals and families to free financial literacy programs, health insurance enrollment and other community services while they are getting their taxes done.”

If you’re willing to carve out a couple extra hours a week and comfortable with a computer, you’re a prime candidate for volunteering. 

“Each season we participate in refresher trainings to learn about changes to the tax law and to reorient ourselves with the tax software,” Elizabeth says. “On tax preparation days, volunteers have their own work station and typically spend 30 minutes to an hour completing a return with an individual or family. There is a great sense of camaraderie among the volunteers, even though we are working independently. We bounce questions off each other, problem-solve challenging tax situation and offer to go pick up lunch.”

From late January through mid-April, United Way partners to operate 33 VITA sites across Middle Tennessee.

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