Dane County UW-Extension tax assistance program brings $4.1 million back to county

Filing income taxes can be stressful, but a Dane County UW-Extension program seeks to change that. The Dane County UW-Extension Financial Education Center (FEC) has been a major partner of the Richard Dilley Tax Center (RDTC), a TCE (Tax Counseling For the Elderly) and VITA ( Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) site in Madison for 11 years.

According to the United States Internal Revenue Service, the VITA program “offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.”

The RDTC is a combined VITA and TCE site, so it doesn’t have an income limit. But according to Dane County UW-Extension Family Living Educator Deb Neubauer, the director of the FEC, about 98% of their clients fall within the IRS’s income restrictions.

Since the Financial Education Center opened in 2005, it has been a critical partner to the free tax service. The Richard Dilley Tax Center (named in memory to one of the original founders of the site) has prepared between 3,500 and 4,000 tax returns for clients every year. Paul Swanson, AARP volunteer, trains and oversees a team of more than 100 volunteer tax preparers. Last year, that team helped clients file returns that brought $4.1 million in refunds back to Dane County.

Neubauer says the cost of working with a paid tax preparer is not an option for many filers, who may have such low incomes that they aren’t even required to file taxes. But not filing can mean missing out on returns. Many of the clients who visit are eligible for the Earned Income Credit (EIC) and Homestead credit, which can mean tax refunds of nearly $1,000.

“For low-income families, every dollar counts,” says Neubauer. “Without the VITA program, a lot of families who qualify for these tax credits wouldn’t even file taxes.”

Visitors to the Dane County Financial Education Center tax site can also connect to additional benefits and services not available from a paid tax preparer. “Between 50 and 100 clients come back for Financial Education Center resources like budget and credit coaching, one-on-one counseling and other programs,” Neubauer says. In addition to coordinating more than 40 volunteer greeters at the Tax Center, Neubauer manages the other asset-building services available to taxpayers using the site. Services include budgeting and credit coaching, FoodShare applications, introduction to nutrition programs and immediate banking services for the unbanked.

The Richard Dilley Tax Center is the largest in Dane County, and is supported by a partnership between UW-Extension, AARP, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Dane County, the City of Madison, the IRS and many local financial institutions. The Tax Center site is open from the last week of January through mid-April every year. Learn more about the free tax assistance program in Dane County, or more information on VITA sites in Wisconsin.