Handling finances can be stressful and overwhelming, especially when there is no one to offer guidance. This is especially true when tax season rolls around, and individuals try to assess all that is necessary to accurately process their income tax returns. Fortunately, as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1969, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is available to provide qualifying individuals (i.e., individuals with low to moderate income; persons with disabilities, limited English proficiency and the elderly) free tax preparation assistance during the income tax filing season.
VITA of Hampton Roads, comprised of 14 partner members, is a “regional organization committed to improving quality of life through programs, education, training, work experience, emergency services, housing and financial literacy,” says Nichole Willis, tax program monitor.
The VITA program is administered by the IRS and was founded 50 years ago with the goal of increasing taxpayer education programs. It is staffed primarily by volunteers, made up of retirees, accounting students, retired IRS employees and the like. “We seek out people in the accounting field or who have an aptitude for tax preparation or finance. It’s a great program because most of our volunteers have been with us for 15+ years,” Willis says.
During the pandemic, VITA, like many other institutions, had to find ways to accommodate those who needed their assistance in processing tax returns. It was so successful in its endeavors that it was recognized for having processed the most tax returns, 2000+, despite the hardships the pandemic imposed. Additionally, the tax returns it processed scored an accuracy rate of 97 percent, says Willis.
“Because of COVID-19, we have taken on virtual processes. We have drop off and pick up sites, intake sites, prep only sites and sites that are 100 percent virtual,” Willis continues. There is also now a facilitated self-assistant site where tax clients can go in, sit at a computer and, with assistance, prepare their own tax returns, which allows for more tax processing. To ensure people can get their taxes done within the allotted tax return timeframe, the VITA program sites stay open until October 15 each year, which is the last day for electronic filing.
Along with tax preparation services, VITA has expanded to address people’s needs more comprehensively. “When people get letters and are unsure of what they should do, for example, we provide them with the appropriate resources,” says Willis. “In this way, we have become a sort of taxpayer advocacy group. If we can’t help, we can refer them to someone who can.”
Since VITA’s services extend into most of Hampton Roads, including Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News and Williamsburg, qualified individuals have a lot of options from which to choose to have all their tax needs met. “Customer service is what I really get excited about,” says Willis, “and that’s what VITA is all about.”
While Willis certainly enjoys her time as a tax program monitor, and all things accounting, her favorite pastime is reading, particularly the classics, a passion she discovered during her high school years. She enjoys reading autobiographies, hiking and bird watching, and a bit of drawing when time permits. Whether meeting customer needs, enjoying the outdoors or curling up with a good book, for Nichole Willis, it’s all about discovering what works.
TO THE POINT:
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA):
Address: 1919 Commerce Dr., Ste. 100, Hampton, VA 23666
Business: Hampton Roads Community Action (VITA)
Contact: Nichole Willis, tax program monitor
Phone: Office: 757-964-9209,