CU tax-help programs ready for new healthcare questions

January 23, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (1/26/15)--This year brings the first tax season that will require Americans to navigate the nuances of the Affordable Care Act when filing their taxes.

That only makes the U.S. Internal Revenue Service' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program all the more important for those who have a difficult time preparing taxes.

Fortunately, credit unions nationwide have once again stepped up this year to help bring the program to those citizens who need it most.

VITA is a free, tax-assistance program that was created to help taxpayers such as the economically disadvantaged, handicapped, non-English speaking and elderly, among others. To qualify, a citizen must earn an adjusted annual gross income of $53,000 or less.

Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD) has initiated a number of activities that will help deliver VITA to those in need, including the coordination of an event at the end of the month with AARP where residents can walk in off the street and receive help preparing their taxes.

It's an event where "people can walk in and get their taxes done, as a way to kick off the season," Alana Listoe, public relations manager for the Montana Credit Union Network, told News Now.

This tax help is especially important this year because of the added layer of the Affordable Care Act.

"The biggest thing this year is, the Affordable Care Act says that everyone has to have health insurance," said Carin McClain, VITA program manager for MCUCD. "Filing a 1040 is how you report to the government how you're complying with that law."

In addition to traditional tax-assistance services, VITA volunteers helping people on the day of the MCUCD-AARP joint event--in addition to volunteers associated with any of the 27 Montana-based credit unions that will provide similar services--will help people determine whether they qualify for exemptions to the health care law.

VITA volunteers can decipher language and help participants understand the guidelines and determine requirements for individuals or families, Listoe said.

Those without health insurance in 2014 are required to pay the "shared responsibility payment," which will run about $95 for most citizens, a fee that will climb in subsequent years.

"Because we're the charitable arm of the trade association we have the ability to do this work through our credit unions and make more of an impact with our partnerships," McClain told News Now. "I think it's a very special setup."

In addition to those from Montana, credit unions nationwide are pitching in to ensure that citizens who need tax-assistance receive it, for example:

  • Royal CU, Eau Claire, Wis., with $1.4 billion in assets, will once again assist the VITA program by offering free office space for volunteers to set up and meet with citizens who need the assistance. The service will be available Feb. 2-April 8; and
  • Travis CU, Vacaville, Calif., with $2.2 billion in assets, will host free services through the VITA program at its headquarters on specified days in the coming months.