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By Charlestien Harris

It’s that time again, tax preparation season.  The IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals.  The VITA program has operated for over 50 years, offering free tax help to taxpayers who generally make $57,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. 

The VITA Program is managed by the IRS but is implemented through partnerships with organizations staffed by local volunteers trained by the IRS to prepare tax returns in their local communities.  The IRS-certified volunteers who provide this free service are reliable, trustworthy and able to prepare basic to advanced individual tax returns. 

Each volunteer must pass tax training curriculum that meets or exceeds IRS standards.  This training includes maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of taxpayer information, proper ethical conduct, understanding of the current year tax laws, then signing a Volunteer Standard of Conduct Agreement Assessment and passing an assessment of skill and knowledge of current tax laws. 

Each return prepared by a VITA volunteer is required by the IRS to be reviewed by a second preparer on site to ensure accuracy prior to filing.  Consent must also be obtained from the taxpayer.  Southern Bancorp and Southern Bancorp Community Partners have hosted IRS VITA sites for over fifteen years. Together, we helped return over $6 million in refunds and tax credits to communities during the 2019 tax season. 

The VITA sites are 100% FREE, EASY, SECURE and have NO hidden fees.  This year all of our participating branches will be taking tax documents via curbside pickup or virtually through email. You do not have to set an appointment or be a customer of Southern Bancorp to receive free tax preparation. For more information, please call your local branch or visit

Participants must provide ALL tax documents (W2s, 1099s, 1098Ts, social security statement, etc.) and copies of identification, including their social security card, current driver’s license (and spouse’s if married), social security cards of all dependents being claimed, and current contact information before a volunteer can begin preparing the return. Also, if participants have loose receipts for tax deductions, they must total them before dropping them off at the VITA site. 

The health insurance form 1095A is also needed if you purchased insurance from the marketplace.  If you plan to receive your refund by direct deposit, the name of your bank, bank routing number and type of account will also be required.  Participants will be provided with a standard intake form which must be completed and returned along with the tax documents.

*Something new this year is the recoup of the Stimulus payment.  If you do not receive your payment by direct deposit, debit card or paper check you will have to claim it when you file your 2020 taxes.

Once your return has been completed you will be notified by email or phone to review the tax return and sign a consent form verifying you gave permission for your information to be electronically transmitted to the IRS and State Tax Revenue office.  We will not be preparing previous year tax returns.

We will be sponsoring the Split, Save and Win Sweepstakes again this year.  Taxpayers who split and save at least $50 of their refund will be automatically entered into a weekly drawing with a prize of $50 as well as a $1000 grand prize drawing.  Participants can split their refund in multiple ways: between two different accounts (checking or savings), purchase savings bonds and put the rest in an account, or you can choose to split the refund by requesting a paper check in addition to having a portion deposited into a bank account. Sweepstakes details can also be found at  

The official VITA tax season will begin on Monday, January 25 and continue through Thursday, April 15. Southern will provide services on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Please call your local Southern Bancorp branch with any questions or to find out what tax documents you need to bring. If you need additional information, you can also visit the Internal Revenue Service website at  Until next week, stay financially fit!