Tax season is upon us, often a stressful time ensuring accurate documentation is submitted to the IRS. Compound that stress with language barriers and potentially no experience with the U.S. tax system, and other challenges quickly arise. Since 2018, the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City has hosted Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinics tailored to meet the unique needs and address specific questions from refugee and new American families living in and around Salt Lake County.
The IRC in Salt Lake City’s VITA Tax Clinics offer consistent opportunities from late January through mid-April for eligible community members to receive help preparing their taxes, while receiving educational resources about the U.S. tax system and the importance of taxes to everyday life.
The IRC in Salt Lake City began facilitating a VITA tax program in response to community members raising the need for supportive tax preparation services that could be accessed for free in their community. “We started asking around, and noticed people were paying over $100 to get their taxes prepared, and that is kind of disheartening,” noted Carolina Terrazas, financial capability coordinator at the IRC in Salt Lake City. Carolina teaches classes on the basics of taxes: what they are, how tax returns are prepared, and what folks should understand so they don’t become overwhelmed.
“Most of our clients are between low and middle household income groups, usually meaning an annual income of $57,000 or below,” said Carolina, “We want to show them why they should file for taxes, and that there are financial government assistance programs that they can go through. We send the message that you can receive help, and that is perfectly okay.”
Carolina is supported by the IRC’s national VITA site coordinator who assists with IRC’s VITA sites across the United States. Through their efforts, volunteers take on the bulk of the work, receiving robust training and support to complete, review and file tax returns on behalf of participating individuals and families. Volunteers ensure one-on-one services are provided, helping community members work through their unique circumstances. Each year, volunteers work with hundreds of individuals to support their tax preparation efforts—ensuring that preparation is made easy and thorough through their efforts.
The program continues to be a vital resource for refugee and new American families still gaining familiarity with complex systems, especially understanding the importance of consistently filing their taxes each year. Carolina works hard to promote the benefits of successfully preparing taxes: from the credits received due to household demographics to how refunds can be used to reach family goals often coaching families to invest or save refunds once received. These clinics offer an opportunity for the IRC to connect with families personally, ensuring a high level of dedicated support.
In 2021, the IRC in Salt Lake City’s VITA tax clinics served around 400 eligible community members to complete tax filings as well as additional training on personal finances. Trainings that coincided with the tax support, touching on income tax, sales tax, property tax, and much more! By providing educational resources and classes alongside tax preparation assistance, Carolina hopes to further help families to be self-sufficient and understand how to independently complete these activities in the future.
The IRC in Salt Lake City will offer free tax preparation assistance to eligible community members who meet the income qualifications starting on January 31st through April 15th. Due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, IRC’s VITA tax assistance services will be accessed remotely; however, there will be in-person options by appointment only. The weekly clinics will be held at the Refugee Education & Training Center (RETC) located at 150 North 1950 West on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2-5pm and on Fridays from 9am to 12pm. “This program opens up an option for our clients and everyone in the community knowing that they are giving their information to the right hands, for free and with open arms.,” said Carolina.