Jim, what is it like to be a volunteer income tax preparer?
Jim: At my church, St. Francis of Assisi on 4th and Brown, they had announced for a few years that they needed volunteers for their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site. I always thought I didn’t have those skills, that it wouldn’t be my thing. One year, I had some free time so I signed up…and found out I LOVED it! It was useful, sort of like a fun puzzle, and I don’t know a way to have a more immediate impact on someone’s quality of life. If it weren’t for us volunteering, some of them would be paying hundreds of dollars to get their taxes done with someone who potentially spends much less time with them.
Krystina, what made you decide to become an income tax preparer for Social Development Commission?
Krystina: Working so closely with Jim and hearing his experiences – he said it changed his life and I wanted it to change my life, too. In my professional role as financial stability portfolio manager, I wanted to promote VITA sites and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and everything it can do for people; I thought I should walk the walk and volunteer.
What about this role is different from what people might expect?
Jim: It’s always surprising to see the guts of our tax code. In learning about financial situations different from my own, I see how the code works to certain peoples’ favor and to others’ disadvantage. When you have to understand situations that you personally aren’t in, you understand how the code affects people as a whole.
As for the “math” part, there really isn’t any! It’s more about knowing what goes where and asking the right questions. The other thing is, there are lots of options for volunteers at a VITA site. Everything from intake, to greeting, to tax preparation. You don’t need to be a retired CPA to help out.
Are you nervous about anything in particular? Excited about anything in particular?
Krystina: Because I’ve been promoting the EITC through United Way, I’m excited to see this valuable tax break in action! I want to help someone take this credit and hear how having this extra income will change their life, because it can be a life-changing amount of money.
What do you hope to learn or understand better from this experience?
Krystina: I mean, there is the obvious about learning how to do your taxes better, and that is a real motivator for me. I will end up with a real skill set that I can bring with me through the rest of my life.
This role allows me be an integral part of my community as well. Milwaukee is hyper-segregated and, because I’ll be volunteering with the Social Development Commission, I’ll be working in a neighborhood that’s so different from my own. It’s nice to transplant myself and feel a part of the wider Milwaukee, not just the neighborhood I live in.
What would you say to someone to encourage them to be a volunteer income tax preparer?
Jim: There are few times I’ve felt like I’ve helped someone as much as when I assisted a grandmother who just got custody of her grandkids. She received a large amount of money through the EITC that was by far her largest paycheck that year. She was near tears. She came back the next week and brought food both for volunteers and those going through tax prep.
Learn more about the VITA program and Milwaukee-area VITA sites.
Women United is hosting a training for VITA intake screeners at La Casa de Esperanza. Volunteers will help taxpayers check in and get organized so they can successfully complete their tax return. Register to volunteer.
Read Elliot’s story – he received the Earned Income Tax Credit and was finally able to take a vacation with his family!