Every year, tax refunds make up an essential part of the finances of thousands of families. Even so, many households miss out on thousands of dollars each year because they’re unaware of refund credits they’re eligible for. For example, 1 in 5 families miss out on the Earned Income Tax Credit which equates to an additional $2,100 on their refund. In Massachusetts alone, that’s over $200 million left on the table, which could be put to work in our communities by families who use their returns to buy home heating oil, pay for childcare, utilities, or housing.
“For people with children, the need to file is multiplied for 2021 – primarily because of enhancements to the child tax credit,” says Jim Graham, Quincy Community Action Programs financial coach.
That’s why, at United Way, we’re committed to helping people make the most of their return every year. We do this by supporting free tax preparation services in local communities across our region– and offering a free online service – myfreetaxes.com, with volunteers available by phone. This year, United Way’s community partners are projected to help prepare taxes for more than 2,660 people, leveraging nearly $4 million in returns. Cumulatively, volunteers will spend around 4,286 donated hours working with clients.
“We are focused on making sure they’re aware of things like the Circuit Breaker Credit in Massachusetts, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit. People aren’t aware of a lot of these programs,” shares longtime VITA volunteer David Burn.
United Way VITA site Greater Lawrence Community Action Council (GLCAC) Executive Director Evelyn Friedman shared that their clients often make back 10% of their annual income in refunds. That’s money that’s vital to empowering families to meet their basic needs throughout the year.
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN ACCESS FREE TAX PREPARATION
While in-person assistance at a VITA site is a necessity for some, remote filing is a great option for people who can file their own taxes or do not have a site in their community. United Way’s myfreetaxes.com has no income limit and offers IRS-certified call support throughout the process. Best of all, it will make a connection to a VITA site if in-person assistance is needed.
Another online option is GetYourRefund – a nonprofit service by Code for America in partnership with IRS-certified VITA sites nationally. GetYourRefund helps people file their taxes with the assistance they need to do it right. It’s free for families earning under $66,000 annually, available in English and Spanish and accessible through your phone, tablet or computer.
Once you have your return, here are some of the best ways to use it according to experts.
“People should treat their infusion of cash as a one-time event and adopt “conserve” as their mantra. Managing a tax refund well has, for many people, never been more important than it will be in 2022,” advises Jim Graham, QCAP financial coach.
HOW TO HELP PEOPLE GET ASSISTANCE
With your donations, United Way provides financial support to VITA sites across Greater Boston including sites at Quincy CAP, Chelsea Connect, JVS-Boston, Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment, and Community Teamwork among others in Boston, Salem, Lawrence.
“At the end of the day, people getting their returns done at a VITA site can be assured that they’re getting and keeping their full return and their taxes will be prepared correctly. I don’t know if that is true for every fee-based service out there,” says Tom, another longtime VITA volunteer.
He shares just how surprised many families are when they receive their return. “When you see that happen, you really feel good about volunteering. You’re helping people in their everyday lives.”
Spread the word
These services are only effective if people know about them so help get the word out! Do you have employees, or program participants who would benefit from free tax prep? This marketing packet will make it easy for you to share about these services on social media.
Free tax preparation relies on dedicated, trained volunteers who are willing to donate their time during tax season. Most sites recruit their tax preparation volunteers in the summer and early fall. While tax season is already underway this year, recruitment for next year is just a few months away! Let a site in your community know that you’d like to help next year.