A coalition of non-profit groups and local elected officials urged taxpayers at a news conference today to keep more of their refund - by letting volunteers from the United Way, AARP, or the Ohio Benefit Bank do their taxes for free.
"It's about bringing money back into the community and into the pockets that have earned it," said Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. "This is a free and trustworthy program to achieve those goals."
Many low-income people are owed a significant refund because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, a federal income tax credit for low to moderate-income working people. Friday is National EITC Awareness Day.
About 15 percent to 20 percent of people who could claim the credit don't claim it correctly or fully, said David Rothstein, project director for asset building at policy and advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio.
"We consider those to be dollars left on the table," he said.
To qualify for the EITC, you must file a tax return and meet certain requirements, including having worked during the tax year and having a household income under $50,270, according to the IRS. Credit amounts vary by number of children in the household and marital status, but can be up to $5,891 for a family with three children.
The credit is considered one of the nation's largest and most effective anti-poverty programs, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program and an EITC expert.
Rather than spend money at a for-profit tax preparer, United Way officials and others are urging tax filers to call 2-1-1 and set up an appointment to have tax forms prepared and filed at no cost.
For tax year 2011 (last year's filing), 942,000 Ohioans claimed the EITC, which represented about $2.1 billion, according to Policy Matters Ohio. About 41,500 Lucas County residents claimed the credit in 2012, for $93 million in funds.
In Michigan, 820,000 recipients claimed a total of $1.86 billion with an average refund of $2,265.
The number of individuals using a free volunteer preparer has steadily increased over the last decade, said Ms. Kneebone.
"If they can have their taxes prepared and filed for free, it means they are taking home the full value of the credit," she said.
For more information on how to get your taxes done for free:
Call United Way of Greater Toledo at 2-1-1
Call United Way of Hancock County at 2-1-1 or 1-800-650-4357
Call the Ohio Benefit Bank at 1-800-648-1176, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or visit ohiobenefits.org.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks will provide free tax filing assistance on Saturday, Feb. 2 as part of Ohio’s first Free My Refund Day - a statewide effort to make free tax filing available during weekend hours to accommodate working families.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: email@example.com, 419-724-6091 , or onTwitter @KateGiammarise.
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