Story in Brief
The UGA Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent in Tift County implemented a virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to help rural consumers in poverty by saving them hundreds of dollars in tax preparation fees. Using technology to reach IRS-certified VITA volunteers, the program provided free tax preparation and budgeting information to limited income consumers and the elderly. Rural and under-served communities have difficulty filing their taxes, receiving financial education, budgeting for emergency funds, and improving their financial situations. Without proper education, these community members lose money when filing taxes, make uneducated financial decisions, and are not prepared for emergency spending situations. The Tift County agent helped pilot the VITA program in 2016 and has tripled the number of clients since then. Now she collaborates with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics at UGA to expand the virtual VITA program. This program utilized a student service-learning model with UGA accounting students through video technology. In 2020, 140 clients from Tift and surrounding counties were assisted, with 127 returns filed and 355 people counseled on good financial management practices to improve their future financial situation. The Federal tax dollar amount returned to Tift and surrounding counties was $100,815 and the amount of State tax dollars returned was $23,116. In addition to these dollars, the clients’ combined tax preparation fee savings was approximately $32,000.