Login | December 16, 2018

Free tax prep may help low-income families avoid scams

Published: March 5, 2018

AKRON––Free tax preparation is available for those eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Volunteer programs help clients file electronically, saving them high preparation fees and often getting their refunds faster.

Community Legal Aid is spreading the word about these programs, in hopes that doing so will help low-income families avoid high preparation fees and tax scams.

“We see it all the time with our clients,” said Laureen Moore, managing attorney for Legal Aid’s public benefits program. “They go to tax prep companies and end up spending a large portion of their refund just to pay for filing their taxes.”

This national issue is one that’s been well-documented, if not well advertised. The Progressive Policy Institute released a report that found that taxpayers eligible for EITC spend as much as 22 percent of their refund to file.

“For a low-income family, that is a significant amount of money,” said Dana Goldstien, Legal Aid’s qualified tax expert. “They could instead use that money to pay down their mortgage and other debt, or pay for other necessities like food and clothing.”

Additionally, studies by the Government Accountability Office have found high rates of error among tax preparation companies.

Multiple options

Those seeking assistance with current year tax filings can get help through programs such as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, administered by local community organizations.

VITA offers tax preparation to people who make $54,000 or less, by helping prepare and file their income tax returns at no cost to them. Tax preparer volunteers, certified by the IRS, help working families claim credits like the EITC and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

Help is also available for those facing any kind of federal tax controversy, or for those who need to file tax returns for prior years. Legal Aid offers free legal representation on these issues through their low-income tax clinics (LITC).

“When people face tax issues, it can affect the rest of their financial life, from their wages to their credit to their homes,” said Moore, who also serves as Legal Aid’s LITC director. “Our clinics are designed to help resolve these issues, so our clients can get on a better path.”

Where to go for help

Those who need help filing current year taxes can reach out to one of the programs listed on Legal Aid’s website at www.communitylegalaid.org/FreeTaxHelp. All volunteers at the programs listed have been certified by the IRS.

Those who need assistance with past year filings or with federal tax issues can call Legal Aid’s HelpLine at (800) 988-9454 to apply for assistance, or can apply online at www.communitylegalaid.org/apply.

“There are great programs out there we want our clients to know about and use,” Moore said. “If you or someone you know qualifies for these programs, we want you to reach out.”