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Tax season isn’t known as the time of year to give back.
But several organizations in the city are offering programs and services that make tax preparation more accessible to people who are low income.
Where to go to do your taxes
Anyone whose household income is lower than $55,000 per year can visit one of 18 Volunteer Income Assistance Program (VITA) sites in the city, thanks to a partnership from Campaign for Working Families (CFW) and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
VITA sites all have IRS-trained volunteers who offer free tax preparation and e-file assistance. Clients also have the option to set up a prepaid debit card or a TruMark Financial Credit Union savings account while at the site, so their refunds will be automatically deposited. Depending on the site, services are available in languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian.
Find a list of all of the VITA sites, their hours and eligibility requirements here.
About 43,000 people are expected to access VITA sites this year, according to CWF President and CEO Mary Arthur.
United Way also offers an online option through its My Free Taxes service, which is powered by H&R Block. Individuals and families earning less than $66,000 per year are invited to use the tool.
Tax filing assistance services are also available at any of BenePhilly’s centers — some of which double as VITA sites. While you’re there, BenePhilly can also tell you if you’re eligible for public assistance.
While you wait
A $100,000 United Way grant is funding Benefits Launch, a pilot program by the nonprofit Benefits Data Trust. Benefits Launch is a web-based application that has questions to determine if the user is eligible for public benefits. If so, it helps them enroll on the spot or tells them how to do so in the future.
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It’s available at all VITA sites and targets clients waiting to be seen.
ML Wernecke, the director of policy and communications for Benefits Data Trust, said her organization and United Way have a goal of 1,000 users this year. Benefit Launch will be available through tax season.
“This is just the beginning,” Wernecke said. “We’re doing it during the tax season because it makes so much sense to connect with that population. We’re looking for opportunities to continue this all year round.”
Once you get your refund
Of course, Philadelphians who use these services may still face challenges even after April 15. The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic offered by the nonprofit Philadelphia Legal Assistance can assist with disputes involving your taxes and the IRS for free.
The clinic’s clients often have questions about how much they owe the IRS and whether they should get a refund, said Lazlo Beh, the director and supervising attorney for the clinic. All clients are 250 percent below the poverty level.
Unlike other tax-related resources, the clinic is open year round. Beh estimates that there are 100 cases open at a time, split between him, another attorney and one paralegal.
No matter what services are offered, Wernecke said tax season is a chance to educate people about other resources because their need doesn’t disappear after April.
“They come to the tax site seeking help for their taxes but what they could conceivably walk away with is help, and benefits that can help them all year round,” Wernecke said.-30-
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