VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance – a program that operates under the Internal Revenue Service and pursuant to which low-to-moderate income taxpayers can have their federal and state tax returns prepared and electronically filed for FREE.
Volunteers are the backbone and driving force of the VITA Program. They are recruited from the community, other non-profits, for-profit organizations, and educational institutions. They are required to train and pass an IRS certification exam in order to prepare tax returns and then spend evenings and weekends from late January to mid-April preparing tax returns for eligible Hawaii residents and saving them money.
The Hawaii VITA Program began in 2006 with 4 sites on Oahu and 32 volunteers. During the last tax season (2018), we had over 200 volunteers working at sites located in every county in the State. Thus far, our VITA volunteers have helped 47,887 Hawaii residents save more than $9.7 Million in tax preparation fees. The money saved by these taxpayers are used to purchase much needed goods and services which, in turn, benefits local businesses.
“Economists suggest that every increased dollar received by low-to-moderate income families has a multiplier effect of between 1.5 to 2 times the original amount, in terms of its impact on the local economy and how much money is spent in and around the communities where these families live.”– United States Conference of Mayors publication.
Using a multiplier effect of 1.5, this Program has thus far had an impact on the local economy in the amount of $175,950,00.
In addition to VITA, our Program offers financial literacy education which focuses on an issue that is not included in most, if not all, financial literacy courses – the prevention of tax-related debt.
Tax-related debt is a serious problem that can hinder any individual’s effort to achieve their financial goals and become self-sufficient. In 2016, 48,640 Hawaii residents who earned LESS than $50,000 owed the IRS $58.9 MILLION after filing their tax returns. This is NOT cumulative debt – this is debt for that one year and it happens every year. Sadly, most of that debt could have been avoided if people understood some very basic tax laws.
As part of our educational efforts to prevent tax-related debt, we utilize this website, social media, and workshops. However, we believe that the most effective way to prevent this type of debt is through early education. Therefore, in 2014, we began our “Learn Early. Live Smarter.” initiative which focuses on recruiting and training high school students to become VITA volunteers. By participating in this initiative, students learn a valuable skill, become knowledgeable in basic tax law which will help them in the future, gain real world experience working with clients, and can improve the appeal of their resumes. Thus far, 262 students from 5 Oahu high schools (Waipahu, Pearl City, Campbell, Kapolei, and Kalani) have trained and obtained their IRS certification and have volunteered at VITA sites under the supervision of our site coordinators.
If you are interested in volunteering, sponsoring a VITA site, participating in our “Learn Early. Live Smarter.” initiative or would just like more information, please click here to contact us.