Get more out of this Tax Season with EITC and VITA sites

For many adult learners, tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) can provide some financial stability in an area of their lives where stability is often foreign. The problem is that a large portion of tax payers don’t know about these types of tax benefits while filing their tax returns. In fact, 25% of tax payers don’t claim the EITC, because they simply haven’t heard of such a benefit. One can only imagine that the percentage of adult learners who don’t claim this tax credit is even larger.

THE EITC, originally approved by Congress in 1975, is a tax benefit that reduces the tax burden for working people who earn low-to-moderate incomes. Its aim is to help working class families gain some financial ground, and it’s done just that. According to Heart of Florida United Way, 6.3 million individuals were lifted out of poverty with the help of the EITC in 2011. It is also credited with lifting more children out of poverty than any other federal program. If you qualified for the EITC last year but never claimed it, you can reclaim it retroactively this year for up to 3 years.

In order to qualify for this benefit, individuals must have worked during the past year and earned income, have a valid Social Security card or ITIN number for each family member, have joint tax-filing status if married, be between the ages of 25 and 65, and have U.S. citizenship or resident alien status all year or be a nonresident alien married to a qualifying individual. For specifics on what incomes qualify for the EITC, please visit http://www.hfuw.org/Earned_Income_Tax_Credit.php.

In addition, an eligible party’s income must be less a certain amount depending on the marital status and/or how many qualifying children are associated with said party. Finally, those who wish to receive this tax refund must have had residency in the U.S. for more than six months. In order to qualify, children must also have been residents for more than six months.

Another service that is relatively unknown to those who would benefit from it most is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). VITA sites are located throughout the state and are often multilingual, offering services in English, Spanish, and Creole. These sites provide completely free tax preparation for anyone, regardless of income and citizenship and residency status. Although intended for lower income families, any individual can visit a VITA site for help with their taxes.

If you and/or your adult learners choose to go to a free tax preparation site, you must bring all forms, including W-2s, and 1099s, information about any other income, information about all deductions/credits, a copy of last year’s tax return (if available), proof of account for direct deposit of refund, Social Security card or ITIN numbers for you, your dependents and/or spouse, and photo identification for yourself and your spouse. To find a VITA site near you, please visit http://www.hfuw.org/Earned_Income_Tax_Credit_-_Tax_Sites.php.

SB Idea and Financial Literacy

Hello, my name is Adriana Alvarez and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member for S.B. Idea, Inc (SBI). SBI is a non-profit organization that runs family literacy academies in Palm Beach County, Florida with a mission to: “empower families academically and economically for self-sufficiency”.  April is not only Volunteer Month but also Financial Literacy Month and as a part of my yearlong service, I am implementing a financial literacy component into the family literacy curriculum.

Although I have no skills training with financial literacy, my parents instilled in me the importance of good financial habits, and how developing good financial habits can lead you to achieve various goals in your life, such as owning a home. Financial literacy is so important to the economic success of a family. I consider achieving the goal of implementing a financial literacy component as the most important of my VISTA commitments. In order to achieve this, I have helped SBI partner up with many useful resources in the community. SBI welcomed VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistant) representative and Senior Tax Consultant for the IRS, Shanana Bartolomei, into our academies to give a workshop on the importance of filing your taxes and how to get them filed for free.

SBI also partnered with PNC Bank, who is sending representatives to do a variety of workshops with our adult students as well as their children. PNC Bank currently runs a program titled “S” is for Savings”, in which PNC has partnered with Sesame Street to develop a child-friendly program in order to get children thinking about good financial habits, and to also get parents more involved in developing good financial habits with their children. I will be working closely with PNC representative from our local Lantana and Jog Branch to continue giving workshops on useful topics such as “How to get out of Debt”.

By the end of the school year I will assist our program mentor in giving an in-service workshop to our current teaching staff on how to implement financial literacy into their already existing curriculum. This will ensure that financial literacy becomes a staple in the learning achieved at the SBI family literacy academies.

As I have been experiencing this journey, I have found three easy and useful things everyone should consider when developing good financial habits:

1) Pay Yourself First. Having a savings account or an emergency fund can always help with life’s bumpy roads.
2) Know The Difference Between Needs And Wants. Understanding and accepting this difference makes developing good financial habits easier
3) The Power of Interest. Most financial institutions will stress the power of interest both negatively, when your paying interest on debt, and positively, when your earning money for doing nothing.

Heart of Florida United Way: Hold on to your money!

The one-two punch of holiday spending and the arrival of tax season can leave a lot of people feeling stressed over their finances. Every year, taxpayers spend hundreds of dollars to have their taxes prepared. Did you know that you can have your taxes done for free at a location near you? This year, Heart of Florida United Way is pleased to continue its successful initiative, the Prosperity Campaign of Central Florida. The campaign is focused on helping Central Floridians hold on to the money that they are entitled to. One way is through promoting the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).

VITA sites are locations that provide free tax preparation by IRS-trained volunteers.  Taxpayers can save hundreds of dollars in filing fees and receive 100% of their refund by filing at one of these sites. Refunds are received quickly and easily – usually within 10 days or less.

The Heart of Florida United Way works with the IRS to promote VITA sites throughout Central Florida. Finding them is easy. Simply dial 2-1-1 once filing season starts (January 20th) and ask for the location near you.

Taxpayers can also ask about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a federal tax credit for individuals and families that earn under certain income thresholds. This year, hard-working residents may qualify for a tax credit of up to $5,751! If you qualify and have already filed your taxes, you can re-file for this year and the last three years to claim your credit. That can result in over $20,000 for families that qualify.

To see if you qualify for the EITC, click here.

To find a VITA site near you, visit our website or simply dial 2-1-1 (After January 10)