I don’t know about you…but I am not thinking about tax season quite yet. I usually file my taxes in February or March – except for that one year I had to take a vacation day from work to get them filed on April 15! Today’s organization is already ramping up for the 2012 tax season here in Minnesota.
AccountAbility Minnesota is an organization dedicated to providing high quality tax preparation and related financial services to individuals and families of limited means by leveraging volunteers. They also advise and assist others to provide similar services in their communities. They are based in St Paul, Minnesota, but during tax season they prepare taxes around the Twin Cities metro area at 12 different locations in St Paul, Minneapolis, Hopkins, Brooklyn Park, and Bloomington.
In 1971 a group of tax professionals came together with the same belief, an individual’s access to quality tax assistance and financial refunds should not depend solely on one’s ability to pay for such services. Shortly, AccountAbility Minnesota was formed and began providing free tax prep to low and moderate income individuals.
Just over five years ago, AccountAbility Minnesota expanded their scope to include additional financial services at their tax clinics. They aim to help taxpayers use the “money moment” that tax time provides to help them build assets. They maximize taxpayer refunds and then encourage the taxpayer to use their tax return to build assets and improve their long term financial security. In addition, the organization also provides training and technical assistance to other organizations around the state to run free tax preparation programs.
As of August 31, 2011, AccountAbility Minnesota has provided free assistance to more than 11,460 taxpayers enabling them to keep 100% of their refunds. A record number of 569 volunteers have collectively prepared 24,153 returns totaling $21.7 million in refunds to low and moderate income families. They have also assisted individuals in opening nearly 3,000 savings accounts.
How can you help?
First – you don’t need to be a tax professional or even know anything about taxes to volunteer with AccountAbility Minnesota! There are several volunteer opportunities including:
- Tax preparer volunteers complete federal and state returns using tax software. Training is provided, but some tax experience is needed. One hour of volunteer tax preparation can mean $2,000 directly into the pockets of families struggling to make ends meet.
- Self-employment tax preparers complete federal and state returns using tax software for customers who are independent contractors or sole proprietors. These volunteers should have two to three years tax experience or experience working with Schedule C. Again, training is provided.
- Tax reviewers assist in the reviewing of tax returns completed by AccountAbility Minnesota volunteers. All tax returns done by volunteers go through a quality review process which makes this makes the organization top notch in the field of free tax preparation. Reviewers ensure every customer receives top quality service and that the returns are accurate.
- Tax site screeners help manage the flow of activities at the tax clinic. They greet and register customers as well as screening for eligibility.
- Interpreters provide interpretation for conversation between the preparer and customer. Languages needed include Spanish, Oromo, Somali, Hmong, Vietnamese, Russian and American Sign Language.
- Financial advocates provide information on credit reports, work support programs and strategies for savings.
- Financial planners offer pro bono financial planning advice to help taxpayers maximize their refunds. These volunteers must be a certified financial planner.