It’s tax season and for many, the duty to settle our annual tax obligation generates feelings of dread, fear, irritation as well as other negative feelings. However, for many families, especially those that struggle to make ends meet throughout the year, tax season is often a time of relief. It’s an opportunity for people to address many of the financial burdens weighing on them during the year. That’s because the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit help moderate to low-income families keep more of the money they earn. In some cases, they may even receive a larger return than the amount withheld from their earnings during the year.
These credits help hard working families pay for reliable transportation, childcare, groceries and other essentials as well as funding family savings plans for emergencies or future goals.
Here in Pierce County and across the country Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) workers give their time preparing taxes for free to households that meet the income limits or special circumstances including low- and moderate-income households, seniors and people living with disabilities.
The VITA program, run by the Internal Revenue Service, provides training for volunteers. In turn, IRS-certified volunteers prepare taxes accurately and ensure that people receive all deductions and qualifying credits, as well as education about financial services and available community resources. VITA tax sites throughout Pierce County are available up to April 15 and can found here or you may dial 2-1-1 to learn more.
In Pierce County alone, 5,000+ households annually are served at preparation sites across the county. The result-- millions of dollars go back into our community through tax credits and refunds, which not only helps families directly but also stimulates the economy.
Several years ago, I spent a tax season as a VITA volunteer. The training and preparation were thorough and I was fully prepared when the time came to prepare tax returns. During that tax season, I met many people who were working hard every day but still struggled to make ends meet. This population has been formally identified as Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed (ALICE). ALICE represents the men and women of all ages and races who get up each day to go to work, but who aren’t sure if they’ll be able to put dinner on the table each night.
Many shared their stories of challenging financial situations they faced and told me how much of a difference that annual refund made. It really felt good when I was able to show someone the “bottom line” of his or her tax return that revealed a significant tax refund. At those moments, I felt pride knowing that a government program was making an immediate difference for families.
South Sound 2-1-1, Associated Ministries, Sound Outreach, Goodwill and AARP Foundation Tax-Aide have partnered with the Pierce County Asset Building Coalition to provide tax preparation services. For households making less than $55,000, they can get free tax assistance and file free at one of 25 sites throughout Pierce County from late January through April. Volunteers will prepare client taxes free of charge, determine if they qualify for EITC and find other credits to boost their bottom line.
For households making less than $66,000 a year, they can access MyFreeTaxes.com to file their taxes free. The site provides easy, fast, secure federal and state tax filing online through software partner, H&R Block.
I am proud that I am a partner in this work and proud that United Way continues to advocate on behalf of individuals and families in our community.