EDITORIAL: Welcome aid: Changes in tax law could make volunteer help a better option

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) center is back to help taxpayers file their federal income tax returns for free at ITEC Center along Mexico Boulevard in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Hearald)

Recent news reports are filled with complaints by taxpayers who found their tax burden this year is worse than they expected. In some cases the refund is smaller, in others people have to pay when they’re used to getting a refund back.

Apparently, much of the discontent stems from last year’s changes in the tax law. President Trump promised that people would enjoy larger paychecks,and the law featured a reduction in the amount that was taken out of workers’ paychecks. But for many taxpayers, that didn’t mean a reduction in overall taxes, and the extra money they received on payday now has to be repaid with the tax return. In addition, many deductions were eliminated and thresholds for other deductions were reduced, making taxable income higher for people who traditionally have used those deductions.

Confusion about the changes in the tax law might inspire many taxpayers to entrust this year’s returns to specially trained preparers.

Some people might hesitate to take their financial records to a professional, especially when the issue is about saving money; paying a tax preparer might clash with the idea of reducing one’s overall tax burden or getting the largest refund possible.

So they do their best to fill out the tax forms on their own, hoping that they got everything right. Some end up buying tax guides or software, and wind up adding the price of those resources to the cost of filing their return.

Fortunately, many taxpayers can take advantage of free tax preparation services that are just as dependable as any professional service — or the Internal Revenue Service itself.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance provides preparation services to anyone whose household income is $55,000 or less. Local United Way offices sponsor the program in which taxpayers can go to many of the Rio Grande Valley’s high schools and other venues. Their returns will be prepared by volunteers trained and certified by the IRS using the government’s own software programs.

That should put at ease anyone who might be surprised to find that their VITA volunteer might be a local high school student. The volunteers spend a month learning about tax law and how to prepare different kinds of returns.

Not all returns will be prepared, however. People with complicated deductions, including capital gains and losses, for example, are best served by financial professionals. VITA can prepare most common returns, however, including those with normal deductions, pension and Social Security payments and self-employment income.

In Hidalgo County, AARP provides similar services at the McAllen and Weslaco public libraries.

To locate the nearest VITA income tax preparer or schedule an appointment in the Rio Grande Valley, one can call 211, or the VITA Locater Tool at 800-9069887. For the AARP service, call 888-227-7669.An unexpected tax increase, when one might have thought a reduction or refund was coming, could inspire mistrust among some taxpayers. Entrusting their returns to specially trained volunteers might alleviate many doubts about preparing the return correctly.