published Friday, November 1st, 2013

Volunteer tax preparers ready for the season


• Contact: Val Palmer

• Call: 423-756-1762

• Visit:

Steve Combs filled out about 300 tax returns last year -- just because he wanted to.

The retiree volunteered to file returns for low- and middle-income families in Chattanooga as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Asssistance (VITA) program, which gives free filing assistance to people with incomes below $51,000.

"The volunteering is rewarding if you like to help people, like working with numbers and like taxes," Combs said with a chuckle. "And seeing as I'm older, it helps me keep my mind active."

Combs and about 140 other volunteers filed 4,500 returns for needy people last year in Cleveland and Chattanooga, said program coordinator Val Palmer, area coordinator of the VITA program at the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga.

And while she's got about 40 new volunteers already signed up to help this year, Palmer is still looking for another 30 to fill the hours at VITA's 15 area locations. Volunteers set their own hours and can work as much or as little as they want, so it takes a lot of volunteers to keep the locations staffed and open, Palmer said.

All VITA preparers go through an extensive training program to become certified through the IRS. The program is a chance for college students to beef up their resumes, Palmer said.

"They're learning accounting," she said. "It's going to look good on their resumes, it's a marketable skill."

Bill Cox, who's been volunteering with VITA for 20 years, said he worked about 20 hours a week during the three month tax season. It's not a complicated process, he added.

"It's something that most people can do if they're willing to do a little training," he said.

The next VITA training session is on Nov. 11, and opportunities to take the classes are available through January. VITA centers are open from mid-January until April 15.

Every tax return is reviewed by at least two people before it's filed, Combs added. He hopes Chattanoogans will give the program a chance.

"Come to the class, take the class and see how you like it," he said. "If you like helping people, it's a great way to give back to the community. Once people do it, they understand the appeal of it."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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