SAN ANTONIO — It's federal income tax season, and for many San Antonians that means refunds. But how do you get the most money you can as fast as you can? At 21 sites around town, volunteers are busy helping people get the most bang for their buck.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) effort helps families that earn less than $55,000 per year. Last year, VITA volunteers in the local area filed more than 32,000 returns that brought in $47.8 million in tax refunds and $17.7 million in Earned Income Tax Credits, which amounts to money in the pockets of the San Antonians who need it most.

Rhonda Webb said this is the third year she has used the service and she is happy with the results.

Webb said, "They've always done a great job.  Everything is good and it’s free!"

Dollie Nixson said because she depends on disability income, every penny counts and she appreciates the value of the help. Nixson said that with the possibility of another federal government shutdown looming, she came to get her taxes done so that she will not have to wait for her refund.

Local IRS spokesman Michael Devine said the agency is on track for efficient service this tax season and so the key to success is getting returns done properly. “You want an accurate return when you file, because if you rush and you make a mistake, it's going to slow down processing your return,” Devine said. Devine also said filing early is a good way to avoid identity theft.

“Filing early is a good idea if you're worried about identity theft, because when the IRS gets a tax return, we're going to process it. If your return is the first one we get with your social security number, it gets processed,” Devine said.

Devine said people who file electronically will know almost immediately if there is a problem with their account.

“If someone has stolen your identity, you will get a note very quickly and you can start the process to fix that. If you do it the old fashioned way on paper, it may take weeks before you receive a notification,” Devine said.

Devine said with regard to other types of fraud, there are some safety tips to keep in mind.

“The IRS will not call you. The IRS will not contact you on social media,” Devine said, adding that legitimate communications with the agency arrive by the US Postal Service and everything will be spelled correctly.

Devine said people will notice many changes when they go to file.

“There are a lot of changes to the tax law.  We've changed about 400 forms in the IRS. The big change is going to be on the 1040. If you used to file the 1040 A or EZ, those are gone and the new 1040 combines those three forms into one,” Devine said, adding, "The old 1040 had about 70 lines, the new 1040 has 23 lines."

Devine said many taxpayers are eligible to file their returns for free, and filing a simple return electronically has never been easier.

“If you've never filed electronically before, this is certainly the year to do it because the chances of making a mistake are very small and with direct deposit you're going to get your refund back in your bank account in 21 days or less,” Devine said.  

Devine said any taxpayer who feels the need to speak with a representative in person no longer has to wait long hours in line. Devine said the local office of the IRS does not take walk in business, that anyone who wants help must call in and make an appointment to reduce wait times.

The United Way Helpline at 2-1-1 has more information on VITA services, locations, and hours or visit www.vitasa.org. The Internal Revenue Service website is www.irs.gov.