February 20, 2017

Tax-assistance programs and tax credits boost economy [Herald-Tribune]

Imagine finding an unexpected letter from the Internal Revenue Service in your mailbox stating that you owe them thousands of dollars. You are already walking a financial tightrope. What are you supposed to do now?

Susan in Sarasota found such a letter (Susan is not her real name). She called 2-1-1 (the social-services help line), which referred her to United Way Suncoast’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

United Way volunteers reviewed her tax returns, and discovered several years’ worth of errors.

After amending five years of tax returns, Susan received another letter from the IRS — this time informing her that she no longer owed, but rather was to receive almost $3,000 in refunds.

Suddenly, a burden had been lifted. Susan has returned to United Way Suncoast for her tax filing ever since.

There are thousands of stories similar to Susan’s in our community. Filing a simple tax return can cost low-income families several hundred dollars — the equivalent of a month’s grocery bill or a sorely needed car repair.

In 2016, 13,161 tax returns were prepared free of charge by IRS-certified volunteers in Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties — saving low-income families $2.6 million in tax preparation fees.

Our mission is not only to save low-income families money, but also to ensure they receive all the tax credits they deserve.

One-in-five eligible Florida taxpayers do not claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, leaving $1.1 billion on the table. In Sarasota and Manatee counties, this translates into $26.1 million each year going unclaimed.

Our VITA program also focuses on higher-education credits like the American Opportunity Credit, a tax credit to support post-secondary tuition expenses for low-to-moderate-income families. An estimated additional $5.1 million in Sarasota and Manatee goes unclaimed in higher-education credits each year.

Read more on heraldtribune.com

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