Andrew Kochian has taxes and returns on his mind. 

Even though tax season is still months away, Kochian is planning ahead for the upcoming season with Catholic Charities’ Volunteer Income Tax (VITA) program, which offers free tax preparation services from IRS-trained and certified volunteers to individuals or families with a household income of $54,000 or less. 

Kochian, a VITA site coordinator for Catholic Charities, is looking to grow his network of volunteers for the VITA program before the next tax season hits.

“We’re primarily looking for folks who will sit and do returns with the clients,” Kochian said. “If they already have tax experience that’s lovely, but one thing I want to stress about the program is you absolutely don’t need to have tax experience at all to be a part of the program. All you need is a willingness to learn taxes and that’s it.”

Volunteers will be given all the necessary training on how to help file a client’s tax return and need to pass a brief, online certification exam. Kochian said the software they use to file client’s returns is mostly “data entry rather than applying a tax background.” Volunteers step in to help input clients’ information and talk them through the tax process before the tax return is looked over by a quality reviewer, such as Kochian or other certified volunteers. 

“Even if you don’t come from a tax background, that’s OK,” said Kochian. “A vast majority of our volunteers don’t come from tax backgrounds and they volunteer just fine.”

The VITA program often gets a number of college volunteers from local universities like Siena College and SUNY Albany, but Kochian is hoping to grow his roster of adults for this season. Kochian said all their college volunteers “are fantastic,” but retention is difficult. Students graduate and move away, or their schedules change each semester, making it hard to know if they can come back the following year. 

In addition to regular volunteers, almost all VITA sites could use additional quality reviewers, which volunteers don’t qualify for unless they have been in the program for one year. 

“We generally don’t get the same students every year but we’re hoping to get the same adults every year,” Kochian said, “so one day if they’re interested they can be quality reviewers.”

VITA sites will be offered this year at three in-person locations starting at the beginning of February: the Pastoral Center in Albany on Sundays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; at Catholic Central School in Latham on Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; and Hudson Valley Community College in Troy on Fridays from 1-4 p.m.

Volunteers are needed primarily for the Sunday morning site at the Pastoral Center, which has been a VITA site for decades and is one of the busiest locations for the program. This year will be the first time the program will be offered in person at the Pastoral Center since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last tax season, VITA sites moved from virtual filings to ­in person and socially distanced meetings at Catholic Central High School in Lansingburgh, Albany Law School and the United Way corporate offices in Albany. That alone made a huge difference in the turnout. Compared to 2020, when the VITA program filed close to 500 returns, the program filed over 900 returns in 2022 and returned over $1 million in refunds back to clients.

Kochian hopes that the number continues to climb, and with the help of more volunteers, they can continue to grow the program for those who need it. 

“The benefits you get out of volunteering are you learn how to do taxes, you work with a great group of people, but also of course, you’re saving clients a lot of money and you are doing a really good deed.”

For more information on becoming a VITA volunteer, contact Andrew Kochian at andrew@unitedwaygcr.org