A coalition of nonprofit groups and local elected officials are urging taxpayers to keep more of their refund — by letting volunteers from 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. Today 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.
Rather than spend money at a for-profit tax preparer, United Way officials and others are urging tax filers to dial 2-1-1 and set up an appointment to have tax forms prepared and filed at no cost. 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.
More than 50 sites, including various libraries and senior centers in Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties, are part of the program this year, including for the first time, the University of Toledo.
The credit is considered one of the nation’s largest and most effective antipoverty programs, lifting millions of people above the poverty line every year, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and an EITC expert.
“It’s one of those programs that both sides can agree on,” said Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, citing the EITC’s history of broad bipartisan support, speaking at a news conference Thursday at the University of Toledo.
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 increased steadily over the last decade, Ms. Kneebone said. This is the eighth year locally Lucas County and United Way have partnered to offer the free service. “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.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091,or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.