Nine years after she retired from Ma Bell, Rachael Pickett is still working full time helping others settle up with Uncle Sam.
The former executive assistant to Chattanooga's BellSouth district manager is no longer on the payroll. But during tax season, Pickett is among more than 100 local volunteers helping others save money on their taxes at 14 area VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) sites.
"I love helping other people and this program really saves a lot of people money each year and eases their mind about filing taxes," Pickett said.
Last year, 8,431 individuals and families got help from VITA volunteers in the Chattanooga area and collectively they received $11.1 million in refunds. VITA volunteers opened area offices' assistance desks last week and will continue offering assistance to those earning less than $54,000 a year through the filing deadline on April 18 — three days later than usual because of the weekend and holiday in April.
The Internal Revenue Service estimates 153 million Americans will file tax returns this year. The IRS estimates more than 70 percent will get a refund.
That share is usually even higher at VITA sites, which are designed to provide help for most simple individual returns for low and moderate-income taxpayers. Business taxpayers and higher-income individuals don't qualify for the volunteer help.
Pickett began 31 years ago working at VITA sites, initially as a Telephone Pioneer volunteer and later as a retiree from AT&T.
"I never was able to go to college to become an accountant but I love working and helping others with their taxes," she said.
VITA volunteers take online training and must pass tax tests to qualify for offering the VITA assistance. The local program is coordinated by the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga.
The returns are all filed electronically and, in most instances, the IRS expects any refunds to be issued in no less than 21 days.
However, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act mandates the IRS hold refunds on tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until mid-February. The change helps ensure that taxpayers get the refund they are owed by giving the IRS more time to help detect and prevent tax fraud.
Such refunds likely won't arrive in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of Feb. 27.
Participants are urged to take a photo ID and Social Security card for everyone listed on the tax return, W2 and other tax forms for income, interest, dividends and other financial transactions. Take a 1095-A form if you purchased insurance through the Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.
* Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 N. Moore Road, Thursdays 4:30-8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* Highland (formerly the 21st Century School) at 104 N. Tuxedo Ave., a bilingual site, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* Northgate Mall, 2217 Hixson Pike, Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* Northside Neighborhood House, 211 Minor St., Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only. Call (423) 267-2217 to schedule.
* Second Missionary Baptist Church, 2319 E. Third St., Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.By appointment only. Call (423) 805-2926 to schedule.
* Signal Mountain United Methodist Church, 3419 Taft Highway. By Appointment Only. Call (423) 280-1394 to schedule.
* Soddy-Daisy Senior Center, 190 Depot St., Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m to 4 p.m. By appointment only. Call (423) 332-1702 to schedule.
* South Pittsburg (Former National Guard Armory Building), 107 E. 10th St., South, Mondays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Fridays, 2-8 p.m., Saturdays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sundays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
By appointment only. Call (423) 580-0042 to schedule.
* Southern Adventist University, Fleming Plaza Mini Mall, Suite #2, Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays from 8 a.m to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins welcome.
* Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, 730 M.L. King Blvd., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Walk-ins welcome.
* Whitwell Library, 900 S. Main St., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins welcome.
* CrossNet Baptist, 2707 N. Ocoee St., (Bilingual Site), Monday through Friday 4:30-8 p.m. By appointment only. Call (423) 476-5493 to schedule.
* Cleveland Community Center, 1334 S. Church St., SE, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Walk-ins welcome.
* Cleveland Public Library, 795 Church St., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Walk-ins welcome.
* Lee University, Walker Business Building at 1120 N. Ocoee St., Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. By appointment only. Call (423) 614-8000 to schedule.