Over 100 CUs Take Place in VITA Program
WASHINGTON - More than 100 credit unions around the country participated in the Internal Revenue Services' Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program last year, the federal tax collector said, by establishing sites to help low-income members prepare tax returns that often brought them returns. The IRS announcement praised certain specific credit unions for their efforts. The $8 million Northeast Community Federal Credit Union in San Francisco maintained three volunteer sites from February 8 to March 31, 2005. According to Chief Executive Officer/Manager Lily Lo, "The number of clients served far exceeded our expectations. We were able to provide no-cost tax preparation to over 700 low-income individuals and families. This translates to $434,500 in Earned Income Tax Credit and over $673,000 Federal refunds." The $83 million GHS Federal Credit Union in Binghamton, N.Y., also hosted a volunteer site in its credit union. President/CEO Stephen M. Gardner remarked, "We feel the program was a huge success and it's our intention to offer this program again." The $8 million Union Settlement Federal Credit Union in New York City successfully completed its second year of providing the free tax service to low-income residents in East Harlem. Operating two sites they generated $1,032,694 in federal tax refunds. Union Settlement employed new and creative outreach strategies to draw community members into the free tax preparation sites, and in turn into the credit union. They printed marketing materials, and distributed them through a local newsletter. Bilingual articles to reach the Hispanic population were also featured in newsletters. Mainstream credit unions are also partnering with the IRS as well to provide free tax preparation or other services for their members. The $591 million US Federal Credit Union in Burnsville, Minn., in its second year of volunteer site operations, expanded to its Northfield location. President/CEO Bill Raker discussed how the VITA program has dramatically increased in 2005, its second year. "The momentum of this program demonstrates a very specific need for the underserved in our communities," says Raker, "and we are proud to be serving them." USFCU's volunteer program was available to non-members as well; 63% of filers were not current members of USFCU before taking advantage of the program. The $13 billion State Employees Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C. featured articles in its monthly Grassroots Newsletter, covering various tax topics such as the benefits of Earned Income Tax Credit, e-file, extension of time to file, and services provided by IRS Taxpayer Advocate Office. The monthly newsletter reaches 1.2 million members.