MANCHESTER, NH – In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Granite United Way and Citizens Bank remain committed to bringing the successful free tax preparation program to NH and Windsor County, VT residents this year. Granite United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program launched their program on January 29, 2021, National Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day, with support from Citizens in the form of a $50,000 contribution.
“This year we’ve had to roll this out a little differently, but we know how important this program is to the low- to moderate-income households we are helping,” said Patrick Tufts, President and CEO of Granite United Way. “Last year we had to pivot to a virtual program in the middle of tax season, helping nearly 5,000 individuals and families complete their tax filing. We’ve used that experience to enhance our program this year.”
This free tax preparation program is available to Individuals and families with household incomes up to $56,844, the upper-income limit for the EITC, annually. Taxes are prepared by IRS-certified volunteers who assist low-to-moderate income residents to access the greatest amount of refunds. Both Granite United Way and Citizens share a common goal of encouraging financial stability and recognize the importance of programs like VITA to families and individuals.
The program has grown over the years thanks, in part, to the support of Citizens.
“Bolstering financial empowerment in our communities is a key part of our mission at Citizens,” said Joe Carelli, President of Citizens, New Hampshire and Vermont. “Now more than ever, helping residents maximize their tax returns and keep more money in their pockets is essential to cover the essentials and build a stronger financial future.”
Some of the changes individuals will see this year include:
- Free tax filing through VITA will not happen face-to-face as in years past. Taxpayers can go to NHTaxHelp.org or dial 211 to connect with a VITA program that can assist them “virtually”.
- Several of the COVID-19 relief measures are being addressed through tax filing, including the stimulus (Economic Impact Payment); this is considered an advance payment on the new “Recovery Rebate Credit”. People who did not receive their full stimulus are able to claim it when they file a 2020 tax return.
- Unemployment affected many people this year and that may affect the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Tax filers may use their 2020 earned income or look back to their 2019 earned income to calculate the most favorable EITC.
“The VITA program is a critical tool that has enabled thousands to access supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and this year there will be new questions for individuals who may have lost their employment due to COVID-19,” said Cary Gladstone, Senior Director of Asset Building Strategies at Granite United Way. ”The EITC also provides support for tax filers to split a portion of their refund into savings, building a cushion against the financial impact of the pandemic,” he added.
The EITC is a support for working people who don’t make a lot of money. According to the IRS, about 1-in-5 eligible New Hampshire residents fail to file for the EITC, leaving an estimated $37 million unclaimed.
Volunteers are the foundation for the program, and this year they will play a critical role in ensuring questions regarding COVID-19 are answered.
“Granite United Way’s IRS-certified volunteers have been getting training on these and more new tax provisions and can assist people remotely or over the phone to claim all the tax benefits for which they are eligible and timely file an accurate return,” said Tufts.
Volunteers are still needed, and those interested can reach out to Cary Gladstone at 603.625.6939 x128.
“Volunteering with VITA is important to me because it provides tax assistance services to individuals who really need it, and helps people save money and maximize their returns at no cost to them,” said Brianna Ferragamo, Citizens Branch Manager and VITA volunteer. “This is especially important in this “new normal” that we’ve been experiencing, with many people out of work or under-employed and receiving smaller paychecks. Personally, volunteering with VITA gives me a chance to give back to my community and be a part of something that makes a tangible difference in people’s lives.”
Granite United Way also encourages self-filers with internet access to take advantage of www.MyFreeTaxes.com. This provides access to filing software at no cost and a toll-free number to call and chat line for tax questions. It is sponsored by United Way Worldwide and Tax Slayer.
The VITA program is a partnership with United Way, Citizens, the IRS and AARP Foundation Tax Aide.
Watch a brief video below that explains the program.
Granite United Way
Granite United Way serves the Central Region, Merrimack County, North Country, Northern Region, Southern Region (Manchester, Salem, Derry) and Upper Valley Regions of NH and VT as well as Windsor County, VT. For more information, visit www.graniteuw.org.