Low to moderate income earners can file their taxes for free with United Way of Kern County VITA Program

February 6, 2023 /

United Way of Kern County (UWKC) and their free tax service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program are now accepting appointments for tax filing. Starting on January 23 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) opened the 2023 filing season. 

The deadline to file in 2023 is April 18. People who apply and are granted an extension will have until October 16 to file. You are required to file if you’re single and made more than $12,950, or married couples filing together who make more than $25,900.  

Locally, UWKC offers its free program to individuals or families making less than $60,000 a year. Preparation locations are:

  • Mercado Latino 2105 Edison Hwy
  • UWKC 1707 Eye St, Floor 3, 
  • Field Office 2240 S. Union Ave
  • Clinica Sierra Vista 815 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
  • Arvin Family Resource Center 300 Franklin St. 

Additional walk-in locations are listed on their website at uwkern.org/vita. If interested, make appointments online through their website or call their offices at 661-834-1820. 

On February 8 from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., there will be a VITA pop-up event at the Mercado Latino where organizers stated VITA workers will be available to help file residents’ taxes on the spot. 

The VITA program began around the 1960s and was the IRS’s response to low numbers in filed taxes. VITA is a volunteer-based IRS program that is open year-round and is nationwide to help with tax preparation, filing, and any concerns regarding your income tax return delivery. VITA also offers Spanish translators. 

“We are a known agency that every year we offer a service, we’re actually available year-round, so even after the tax season. Typically, tax offices close after the deadline and they’re nowhere to be found. And when people have questions or concerns, and they don’t get their refund they have nowhere to go. Something very important for United Way was that we still need to be there,” said Annelisa Perez, the Financial Stability Initiatives Manager of UWKC and VITA manager. 

Changes to filing in 2023 include a regressive amount offered for the Child Tax Credit along with other benefits that were bolstered during the pandemic era. Unfortunately, Perez stated that filers who were used to not making an income and receiving certain credits no longer have that option. Taxable income is now required for all tax credits unless the household has children five years and younger.  

The VITA systems and programming help volunteers input filers’ information and be provided with a curated list of benefits they would qualify for. Most are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

“One of our goals is to target communities that are working class and can’t afford to go to a pay-to-prepare, and that are eligible for The Earned Income Tax Credit to come to a VITA site,” said Perez. 

Those without a Social Security Number (SSN) are required to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file their taxes, and now ITIN holders who make less than $30,000 a year are eligible for the California Earned Income Tax Credit. 

According to Perez, those who have ITINs have an easier time applying for an SSN because they have documented tax returns showing participation in society and due diligence with taxes owed. 

Perez mentioned that first-time tax filers who require an ITIN can send their taxes and ITIN application to the IRS together with VITA’s help. 

“The IRS is not going to do anything about their immigration status, they are aware that they’re here working, so that’s why [the IRS] assigns them that ITIN. To identify them as undocumented individuals but who are still filing, and doing what they have to do reporting their income,” explained Perez.

For anyone interested in joining the volunteer group Perez stated that there are two main trainings offered a year before tax season. These trainings are mandatory to attend, and staff provides all necessary materials. During tax season Kern residents can join the help by signing up for the VITA newsletter and registering on the volunteer platform.

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