Each year, the IRS trains volunteers to help people with low incomes do their tax returns. This helps people with low incomes who otherwise might fail to apply for tax credits that they qualify for, such as the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.
In , volunteers in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program helped 843,803 people fill out their tax forms. This brought $66 million in taxes to the U.S. treasury — but took $996 million back out in refunds. So on average, each tax return that a VITA volunteer helped to fill out took about $1,100 out of Uncle Sam’s pocket and put it into the pocket of someone who would spend it more responsibly.
Last year, I volunteered at Arriba Juntos in San Francisco, and helped 18 families take back $10,341 from the government. The year before, I helped 17 families reclaim $20,404.
There are far more people who need help filing their returns than there are VITA volunteers, so if you like the idea of playing Robin Hood, I encourage you to sign up. You don’t have to be an income tax wizard — the IRS provides free training, and you can volunteer to help in ways that don’t directly involve tax preparation if you really don’t want to go anywhere near a 1040.
This free training can also be useful to people who want to be tax resistance counselors, or who just want to learn more about the IRS-approved methods of keeping their money out of the government’s hands.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any centralized resource you can go to in order to find out how to volunteer in your area. I’m familiar with VITA programs in my area run through Arriba Juntos and the United Way, but across the country these volunteer programs are run by many different organizations.
The Santa Clara County VITA program seems particularly well-organized, and they offer a registration page on their web site that accepts volunteers from anywhere in the country (they’ll forward your registration information to a national coordinator). You can also call the IRS at 1‒800‒829‒1040 or contact your local IRS office to ask them to direct you to local volunteer opportunities.