Number of tax returns filed through UF/IFAS program jumps more than 50 percent
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — James Holland had tried other tax preparation services before, but the experience was never positive. “I’ve had some issues with in-person services in the past, and I wanted to try something new. Then I tried doing my taxes online and wasn’t impressed,” he said.
Holland was looking for a service that would explain every step of the filing process and that was managed by experts he felt he could trust.
So when Holland found out that free tax preparation was offered through his local University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension office, he wanted to give it a try. “This was something backed up by UF, and I knew this is where I would get the best help available,” he said.
Holland was among more than 400 residents in north Florida and the Panhandle who filed their taxes with the help of the 10 UF/IFAS Extension county offices, which served as intake sites for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). In 2017, the number of returns filed increased by more than 50 percent, compared with 2016.
“More people are seeing the value in the program,” said Taylor Spangler, state program coordinator for family and consumer sciences at UF. “VITA is a great alternative to paying someone else to prepare your taxes or trying to do it on your own. The program connects you with certified tax preparation volunteers who will make sure that you are getting all the deductions you deserve, and will e-file the return for you — all for free.”
When Holland went in for his appointment at the UF/IFAS Extension Columbia County office, he felt he was in good hands.
“The people there were nice and helpful. They explained everything that would happen, and the process went very smoothly,” he said. “They were patient, understanding and methodical. I’m going to recommend it to my parents, and I plan on going there next year.”
Each VITA session also includes at least 15 minutes of financial education, such as the importance of saving receipts, maintaining a bank account and establishing a budget.
2017 was the first year UF/IFAS Extension VITA program received a grant from the IRS. The $12,500 in funding helped the organizers reach more people, Spangler said. As in years past, Bank of America continued to support the program.
Based on the average cost of income tax preparation help in the southeastern U.S., the VITA program helped save participating tax payers an estimated $268 per return, Spangler said.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.