By Janie Ginocchio

As discussed in previous blog posts, income tax time is a good opportunity to encourage people to save, as tax refund checks are often the largest lump sum payment a household will receive all year. Southern Bancorp encourages savings at tax time through our participation in the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and we’ve recently prepared a whitepaper that outlines this tax savings process in greater detail along with issuing a call to action in support of the successful program.

VITA provides free income tax preparation services to low- to moderate-income individuals and families and can save them up to several hundred dollars in tax preparation fees. During this last tax season, Southern’s VITA volunteers prepared 3,656 tax returns in Arkansas and Mississippi, resulting in refunds of more than $6.5 million, about half of which was in the form of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. In addition, Southern leverages its community VITA events to connect attendees to free legal services, community and health services, and to encourage them to save part of their tax refund.

Based on Southern’s experience as a VITA provider, Southern Bancorp Community Partners recently released a new whitepaper, Tax-time Savings: Opportunities and Strategies for Policy and Practice, which describes several best practices and policy recommendations for helping make tax time a meaningful – and hopefully annual – opportunity for low- to moderate-income households to save.

The whitepaper covers topics such as communication with taxpayers, tax return form design and tax-time savings incentives, and was funded in part by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

A Call to Action: Support the VITA FY 2020 Appropriation

VITA was just made a permanent program of the IRS, and the US House of Representatives recently passed a fiscal year 2020 appropriation of $30 million to fund VITA. It’s now in the Senate, and Southern encourages Arkansas residents to contact Sen. John Boozman, who’s on the Senate Appropriations Committee, to ask him to support the appropriation.

For those who would like to call Sen. Boozman’s office, Prosperity Now’s action center has a guide you can use when calling. Otherwise, you can submit a message to Sen. Boozman online through his official website.

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