Rutherford County resident Christine Estes was appalled at the $450 it cost her elderly father to have his taxes prepared by a franchise service.
Greenhouse Ministries Director Cliff Sharp addresses the crowd at its VITA services opening in January.
So, when she saw a notification that Greenhouse Ministries would be offering free tax preparation through the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, she immediately signed up to become a certified tax preparer.
Estes wanted to do her part to keep other tax filers from paying what she considers exorbitant fees.
“I knew if it was happening to my dad, it was happening to others,” Estes said.
Because walk-in franchise tax preparation services charge a fee for each form a tax payer must file, the final cost can run into the hundreds of dollars. And the two major services in Murfreesboro do not tell customers what their costs will be until the taxpayer actually sits down with a preparer. The Internet is full of complaints from people who went to have a simple tax return prepared and wound up spending $128 up to $460.
Until April 17, Greenhouse Ministries is offering free tax preparation services to any individual or family earning less than $50,000 per year.
“We wanted to do something to protect low to moderate income earners against predatory services,” said Nathan Butturini, the VITA site coordinator for Greenhouse Ministries.
The volunteer service can help most anyone, Butturini said. They cannot assist those with capital gains or losses, Schedule C, minors’ investment, farm income, those who own rental properties or those who’ve lost their homes to foreclosure.
The Greenhouse Ministries VITA site has about 32 volunteers who are certified by the IRS to complete tax returns. Some volunteers are retired accountants, some are citizens who just want to help and others are Middle Tennessee State University students.
Tyson Kimbrel and Chris Manvy, accounting majors at Middle Tennessee State University and members of Beta Alpha Psi, an honors organization for accounting majors, are both volunteering.
“It’s nice to help someone get their taxes done,” said Kimbrel.
“It’s a unique opportunity to get some hands on experience with the general public and taxes,” Manvy said.
So far this tax season, 200 people have taken advantage of the free VITA services. Butturini expects Greenhouse Ministries will help more than 300 people by April 17.
Those who’ve taken advantage of the VITA services have been very appreciative, Estes. One client even brought a homemade pie to the volunteers, she said.
When the schedule permits, walk-in clients are accepted. However, it’s best if taxpayers make an appointment, Butturini said. VITA volunteers can test for and receive one of three different certifications. These are basic, intermediate and advanced. Each certification allows the volunteer to prepare specific forms. By calling ahead to make an appointment, the site can make sure a volunteer with the appropriate certification is available.
VITA is sponsored by the IRS and volunteers use IRS issued laptops and software that is very secure, Butturini said. Once the VITA site receives confirmation that a return was received, all personal data is destroyed.
“We do want to respect taxpayers’ privacy,” Butturini said.
To take advantage of VITA services, taxpayers must bring with them picture identification, social security cards for each taxpayer and dependent, birth dates and all W-2, W-2G, 1099R and 1099-Misc forms. Those with children in daycare also need to bring the total amount paid to the daycare provider and the daycare provider’s tax identification number.
To file taxes electronically on a married-filing-jointly form, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.
Estes, who had her taxes prepared by a VITA volunteer said the process was very easy.
“I was tickled pink to have my mine done,” Estes said.
VITA services are available Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The site is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Some appointments are available on Monday, Butturini said.
To make an appointment, call 615-653-4901.