Volunteers Prepared to Slay Taxes

VITA Tax Prep is Underway

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

With sword in hand, a bold knight approaches the dragon sleeping just inside the mouth of the cave. The knight positions his shield and then thrusts his sharp blade into a vulnerable spot. While not defeated with a single blow, the beast is eventually slain, and the knight is rewarded with a mound of gold coins the dragon has been guarding.

Perhaps tax season doesn’t evoke images of fire-breathing dragons for you. At United Way of Charlotte County (UWCC), however, our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) uses a software called TaxSlayer to prepare and file returns. For me, the name brings with it visions much more exciting than a CPA pecking away at a keyboard.

VITA volunteers serve as our knights in shining armor during tax season, sacrificing their time to prepare income tax returns for Charlotte County residents at no charge. With the 2022 tax season upon us, appointment scheduling is now open for households with incomes under $66,000.

Beginning Feb. 1, IRS-certified tax preparers, trained to use TaxSlayer, will help residents claim their treasure in the form of deductions and credits that can lead to a hefty tax refund for many. What stands between them and that mound of gold is an intimidating opponent known as a tax return.

The VITA team will slay hundreds of tax returns for free over the next three months and put money back in the pockets of low- and moderate-income households in Charlotte County. In 2021, 732 tax returns were filed through our VITA program. Many clients used their tax refunds to pay bills, add to their savings accounts, purchase homes, and make home or car repairs.

UWCC’s mission is to mobilize the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty. To that end, much of our work is focused on financial stability for those we serve. A foundation of financial stability is, for many households, their annual tax return. Tax refunds are the biggest paycheck many Americans see all year, providing an opportunity for these community members to budget for large expenses and supplement their monthly income.

UWCC will offer appointments through April 7 in Port Charlotte at the Family Services Center on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in Punta Gorda at 1st United Methodist Church on Thursdays. Residents can call us at 941-421-7100 to be added to the VITA appointment list.

AARP will also be offering free tax preparation this tax season. Appointments must be scheduled in person between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Punta Gorda Library or between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Jan. 26 at the Charlotte Harbor Beach Complex. More details on AARP’s program are available by visiting taxcharco.freecluster.eu or calling 941-421-4739.

For those who are comfortable slaying their own return, free options with limited support are available to most taxpayers. United Way also offers MyFreeTaxes (www.myfreetaxes.com), which lets everyone with a simple return file their federal and state tax returns for free. You can also access www.irs.gov/freefile from a computer or smart phone for other no-cost tax preparation options.

UWCC is grateful for our VITA volunteers who wield sword and shield (pen and notepad) in service to our community. They truly are knights in shining armor, offering their time and talent to remove a barrier to financial stability for individuals and families in Charlotte County. Visit www.unitedwayccfl.org/free-tax-prep for more information on our VITA program.

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at director@unitedwayccfl.org.