Today marks Tax Day – the deadline by which most Americans file their personal income tax returns. This year we managed to get three extra days to file our taxes thanks to the observance of Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. on April 15. The hard work of my fellow volunteers in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs across the country reminds me that this day is about service.
In late 2015, I heard about the work of Foundation Communities, a local nonprofit that offers various services to hardworking low- and moderate-income Texans. One service is free tax preparation for Texans who make under $50,000. Last year, they helped over 20,000 people file tax returns, generating $36 million in local tax refunds. I wanted to be a part of that tradition of service, so I decided to volunteer as a tax preparer for the 2016 tax season. Before I became a certified volunteer tax preparer, I attended a training and passed a series of certification tests from the Internal Revenue Service.
After volunteering these past few months, I found that for Texans living paycheck to paycheck, tax season can be either a big delight or a huge disappointment, depending on whether they received a refund or owed taxes. I also discovered that no matter the outcome, filing a tax return felt cumbersome to them. However, I always made sure to remind them that income taxes are essential to the functioning of our country. From providing financial aid to college students to ensuring the quality of our food, taxes help our leaders invest in services from which we all benefit.
I interacted with individuals from all walks of life, from college students to retirees and everyone in between. Navigating the tax code and applying it to their life situations was very rewarding if they realized that they had overpaid taxes and would receive a refund. That extra income could go towards paying down debt, buying assets, or putting more money in their savings account. Or, that money would go towards purchasing goods and services that will help grow our economy.
Overall, Tax Day reminds me of the value of service. Whether you serve your community through volunteering or serve your community by paying taxes – our community is a better place because of both. Not only is Tax Day a deadline, but more importantly, it is a time to celebrate what made this country great: public investments that ensure all hardworking individuals can lead safe, financially secure, and healthy lives.
Here is a great infographic from the National Priorities Project that explains where our 2015 federal tax dollars go: