— 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,” explained 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 last year 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 Goldstein, 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.
Those seeking assistance with current year tax filings can get help through programs such as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, administered by Akron Summit Community Action, Inc.
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).
“These are two of the most important anti-poverty credits that save eligible taxpayers thousands of dollars,” explained Gloria McGhee, EITC program administrator for Community Action. “One in every five taxpayers who were eligible for the EITC failed to claim it in 2016.”
Help is also available for those who need to file for past years, or for those facing any kind of federal tax controversy. Legal Aid offers free their low-income tax clinics (LITC), which help to address these issues.
“When people face tax issues, it can affect the rest of their financial life, from their wages to their credit to their homes,” explained 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. 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 shared. “If you or someone you know qualifies for these programs, we want you to reach out.”
Stephen Funk rejoins Board of Trustees
Community Legal Aid also recently announced that Stephen Funk has rejoined the organization’s Board of Trustees, taking on the role of Secretary for the 2016-2017 term.
Funk, a partner at Akron law firm Roetzel and Andress, was actively involved with Legal Aid from 2008-2012, serving on the Justice for All Campaign Committee and as a Trustee. Funk stepped down in 2012 when he was elected as president-elect of the Akron Bar Association.
“I’m thrilled to be back,” Funk shared. “Community Legal Aid is an important part of the Akron legal community. I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of the organization, helping those who lack the means to receive proper representation in the justice system. I am looking forward to resuming my service on the board.”
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Funk has worked for a variety private and public sector clients. His practice includes business and public law litigation, appellate law, constitutional law, municipal law, and land use and zoning law.
Legal Aid’s 18-member board oversees major policy decisions, promotes and expands the reach and influence of programs and services, and exercises financial oversight. The group consists of lawyers from the various counties served by Legal Aid, as well as client and community representatives.