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Virtual free tax prep offered in Lincoln

Virtual free tax prep offered in Lincoln

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With one month left before the postponed July 15 tax deadline, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Center for Civic Engagement encourages taxpayers who haven’t yet filed to try its new Virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Virtual VITA grew out of a need to help low- to moderate-income families who, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, still need help preparing and filing their taxes for free. In mid-March, UNL was forced to close eight area face-to-face VITA sites due to the coronavirus. Last year, the Lincoln VITA program prepared around 2,500 tax returns for taxpayers that rely on the program.

“These families need our help,” said Linda Moody, UNL Center for Civic Engagement. “Many of the people we serve don’t feel comfortable preparing taxes on their own and can’t afford to pay a tax preparer. This virtual program helps families e-file so they can get their refunds as soon as possible.”

As part of the virtual program, taxpayers supply their name, phone number and email address, and agree to have their tax return prepared virtually. Then they receive an email to schedule an appointment. Virtual appointments generally take place Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Taxpayers upload their necessary tax documents to a secure platform and work with an IRS-certified volunteer, who prepares the return and gets sign-off from the taxpayer before e-filing the return with the IRS. The whole process typically takes about a week.

If successful, the Lincoln VITA coalition plans to keep the program running indefinitely, so taxpayers can take advantage of it not only during the pandemic, but afterward as well.

“We think this is going to be a great option for people, especially for those who may not be as mobile or who simply prefer the comfort and security of home, rather than sitting down with someone in-person,” said Moody. “The process is built on a foundation of confidentiality, security and safety for all.”

To make an appointment for virtual VITA help, taxpayers can sign up at vita.unl.edu/signup. Taxpayers can also email the UNL Center for Civic Engagement at vita@unl.edu with any questions.

In March, the IRS postponed the tax return due date to July 15, 2020. Taxpayers have until that date to file and pay their taxes. Taxpayers who file for an extension will have until Oct. 15 to file their return, although any taxes due should still be paid by July 15 to avoid interest and penalties.

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