October 18, 2019

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly

What are the VITA and TCE programs?

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS. The AARP’s Tax-Aide program runs the majority of TCE sites.

Become a VITA or TCE Volunteer

Both VITA coalition sites and Tax-Aide TCE sites normally have a number of volunteer roles—whether you want to be a tax preparer, lead a volunteer team, translate information into other languages, organize taxpayer paperwork, or set up computers—there’s always somewhere you can help based on your interest.

Required trainings vary based on the individual VITA or TCE site. Some sites require new volunteers to attend 1-5 days of training, some allow for self-study at home through the IRS’ link and learn program and related publications. Some sites have a minimum number of required volunteer hours, others do not, but you can usually expect to come on the same day each week during filing season for a few hours. Most sites operate from the beginning of February through the filing deadline in April.

Relaxed Certification Requirements for Attorney Members in Good Standing with State Bar 

To complete tax returns at any VITA or TCE site, volunteers must pass a fairly rigorous certification test. AARP Tax-Aide sites require volunteers to pass the IRS’ test. However, the Section’s Pro Bono Committee has an agreement with the Service whereby attorneys in good standing with a state bar will not be required to attend training with respect to taxes or tax preparation. This allows tax and other practitioners familiar with the issues common to the VITA beneficiaries to spend their valuable time volunteering. The IRS has a Link and Learn portal with course materials & certification information. Note that some local VITA coalitions require or suggest new volunteers to pass the full IRS certification test their first year of volunteering if they do not have a background in individual income tax preparation.

How to Become a Volunteer

To locate your most convenient local VITA site, you can either complete this application through the IRS and someone will likely contact you, or you can search “VITA site” and the name of your city to discover your local coalition. Below is a list of some of the large coalitions in big cities.

To get connected with the AARP’s Tax Aide program, you can simply complete the Tax-Aide application. After receipt of your information, it will be forwarded to a volunteer in your state who will contact you soon to tell you about opportunities and associated training requirements. The state representative will be able to answer all of your questions and give you specific details on the volunteer program. AARP is especially in need of volunteers in California and Washington DC for the 2019 filing season. 

Sample List of Local VITA coalitions for Some Major Cities:

Many major cities have coalitions of VITA sites that operate out of the same organization or a group of organizations to provide sites throughout a metro area. You can normally find them through internet searches, but to help aid in your search, here is a list of a few of the big city VITA coalitions:

If you are stuck finding the best site near you feel free to contact Meg Newman or DeMarcus Freeman at the Tax Section and they will try to connect you!

Starting a VITA Site

If you are interested in starting your own VITA site, here are some resources: