Volunteer FAQs

How many hours are volunteers requested to work during tax season?

Typically 4 hours per week

What do tax preparer and site coordinator trainings involve?

Volunteers with no previous tax preparation experience are required to receive training on federal, state, and local tax law. This may be obtained, in part or whole, through classroom-based training (approx.30 hrs.) or on-line tutorial. Software training is also required (approx. 6 hrs.). Individuals with tax preparation experience are required to receive refresher training on updated tax law. All tax preparer and site coordinator volunteers are required to take and pass online IRS-established tests which enable them to be certified by the IRS.

What topics are included in the VITA training?

Certification in one of two levels of federal tax law is required for all site coordinators and volunteer tax preparers: Basic or Advanced.

The Basic certification path is intended for the volunteer who will assist working taxpayers with individual and family tax concerns. The minimum required training topics covering the most common area of need are:

  • Filing Status
  • Personal & Dependency Exemptions
  • Wages
  • Interest & Dividends
  • Taxable Refunds
  • Alimony Received
  • IRAs/Pensions with taxable amount determined
  • Unemployment
  • Social Security Benefits
  • Lump sum Social Security
  • Other Income—Line 21
  • Penalty on early withdrawal of savings adjustment
  • Educator expenses adjustment
  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Tuition & fees deduction
  • Alimony paid
  • Standard Deduction
  • Itemized Deductions
  • Tax computation
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Child & Dependent Care Credit
  • Credit for the Elderly
  • Education credits
  • Retirement Saver’s Credit
  • Additional tax on IRAs, other qualified plans (auto-calculation only)
  • Earned Income Tax CreditAdditional Child Tax Credit
  • Direct Deposit, Split refund, 3rd party designee
  • Amount owed, payment options, extension to fileForm
  • W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate

The Advanced certification path covers tax law as it applies to wage earners who have more complex income issues. This certification path includes all Basic tax law in addition to the following:

  • Sch C and Sch C-EZ limitations only
  • Unreported tips
  • Pensions, Annuities & IRA distributions-Taxable amount not determined (Simplified Method for pensions)
  • Limited Schedule K-1
  • Sale of Stock
  • Sale of Home
  • IRA decudtion
  • Foreign Tax credit (simplified election only)
  • Rresidential Energy Credit
  • Unreported Social Security & Medicare tax from Form 4137
  • Additional tax on IRAs/other retirement plans (exceptions)
  • First-time homebuyer credit repayment

Can I be held liable if I make a mistake on a tax return?

The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 exempts a volunteer or a nonprofit organization or governmental entity from liability for harm caused by an act or omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity if the volunteer was acting within the scope of his responsibilities at the time; the volunteer was properly licensed or otherwise authorized for the activities; the harm was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights of the individual harmed.

What is a VITA site?

A Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site is a location where tax returns are completed and electronically filed at no cost to the EITC-eligible taxpayer.

How are volunteers assigned to sites?

All efforts are made to assign volunteers to a VITA site(s) of their choosing; when this is not possible, other VITA site options are explored.

What are mobile sites?

Various community-based mobile sites provide free tax preparation service, often to a more targeted population (i.e. employees of the business-based mobile site) but less frequently than established VITA sites. Volunteer tax preparers may be assigned to cover mobile sites throughout the tax season.

How many VITA sites are there?

There are more than 20 VITA tax sites in Erie County for the upcoming tax season. Refer to Tax Prep Locations for specific locations and schedules.

What impact do VITA volunteers have on the community?

Free VITA tax preparation sites offer eligible tax filers an alternative to costly commercial tax return preparation and filing fees, which average about $222/return. Since 2008, Erie FREE Taxes VITA services have saved Erie County residents more than $3 million through free tax preparation, and has returned more than $26 million in refund dollars to Erie County residents.

How are VITA volunteers recruited?

Recruitment efforts reach out to local university, and technical school students and faculty, employees of businesses, agencies, and organizations, retired persons, and the general public.

Are volunteers required to have to have a criminal background check done prior to starting the volunteer work experience?

Yes, due to the sensitive nature of tax-related information they will have access to during the tax preparation process. New volunteers must have a criminal background check done. United Way Erie FREE Taxes pays for, and obtains the clearances.

Tax Sites

Click here for a complete list of VITA tax preparation locations.