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Banking & Finance

Volunteers Tackle Taxing Challenges

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 3, 2023
AARP Tax-Aide counselor Johnny Lingo (far right) works with clients on their tax return at the New Hanover County main library. (Photo by Laura McCabe)
Every year, dozens of individuals in the Cape Fear area undergo many hours of training and then dedicate themselves to multiple weeks of public service: a taxing endeavor, literally and figuratively. 

These are tax preparation volunteers, the local members of the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and they maintain tax-prep centers in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. Many work directly under the VITA program; others are volunteers with AARP’s Tax-Aide program who undergo the same training but operate semi-independently under the VITA umbrella, according to Laura McCabe, a primary trainer and AARP volunteer herself. 

There’s still a third cadre: students and faculty members at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Cameron School of Business, who are also trained under the VITA program.

These VITA-certified tax preparers see different issues related to their location and demographic draw. For instance, McCabe said, AARP volunteers in New Hanover County help many students at UNCW and Cape Fear Community College with their education credit claims.

“Education credits require extra training be-cause it’s complicated: what’s a qualified educational expense and what’s not,” she said. 

McCabe said AARP volunteers see many hospitality workers at the tax prep site at the downtown branch library. The number of gig-economy workers has also increased, as has the number of people who are now insured through the Affordable Care Act and must reconcile their premium amount to their income through their tax filing.

In contrast, Brunswick County AARP tax aides see mostly older adults, whose tax issues may relate to those aged 65 and older. One example is the change for 2022 in the Earned Income Credit, said Cindy Tarantino.

“If you work or have self-employment income, during the pandemic you could get an Earned Income Credit even if you were 65,” said Tarantino, an AARP tax aide who works at the South-west Brunswick branch library in Carolina Shores. “For 2022, the IRS did away with that, reverting to the pre-pandemic rule that the EIC is only for those under 65.”

Another change for 2022, according to Tarantino: “During COVID, people got a break on their charitable contributions if they were taking the standard deduction. Even if the standard deduction was larger than they could itemize, during COVID the IRS gave people up to a certain number of charitable contributions they could get a deduction for above [the standard deduction]. That has gone away this year; some people are surprised.”

Brunswick County tax aides are trained also to prepare South Carolina tax returns because, Tarantino said, they get clients from both states.

Both McCabe and Tarantino said they are always looking for volunteers, and no accounting background is needed. Volunteers with American Sign Language skills are especially helpful, they said. In New Hanover County, volunteers who speak Spanish could expand VITA tax services in the Latino community.

Tax help at the Cameron School of Business takes a slightly different approach, according to Victoria Hansen, a CPA and accounting faculty member, who heads up the VITA program on campus.

“Our program has both students – graduate and undergraduate – and faculty volunteers,” she said. “It is run differently from the traditional VITA site … in that we are focused on teaching taxpayers how to file their own returns.”

The UNCW volunteers provide taxpayers with a link to free TaxSlayer software, which they use to input their own tax information and prepare their own returns, Hansen said. 

For details on sites and times of VITA tax assistance in New Hanover County, visit src.nhcgov.com/526/VITA-Tax-Information. To find an AARP Tax-Aide site in Brunswick County, go to aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide. Details about the pro-gram at Cameron School of Business are at csb.uncw.edu/acg/vita.html.
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