Filing an income tax return can evoke anxiety. A person’s income can be a sensitive topic, and all the different forms, rules, and documents can be overwhelming. Perhaps for these reasons, many people don’t benefit from the tax breaks that are available to them. Or they pay a professional to prepare their tax returns for them, even for uncomplicated filings.
The IRS has organized two volunteer programs for free tax return assistance. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program is aimed at people earning $52,000 or less per year. These volunteers file taxes electronically, and can assist with several tax credit programs. There is an online locator tool to help qualifying tax payers find VITA services. The second program, called the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program, is coordinated with the Tax-Aide Program through the AARP Foundation. This service is open to all, but targeted to older adults. The tax counselors through TCE are better versed in retirement, Social Security, and pension issues. They can be located through another search engine hosted by the AARP Foundation.
Low income Social Security recipients probably won’t have to pay taxes on their benefits, but moderate income persons may have to pay taxes on up to 85% of the benefits received during the tax year, depending on the amount they receive along with other income they may have.
Adults who work, are moderate to low income, and are between the ages of 25 and 64 may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC). The credit amount is larger if the person is caring for a child in his or her home. Grandparents raising grandchildren or other kinship care can especially benefit from the EIC, as well as the Child Tax Credit (CTC). To receive the CTC, the person must have earned at least $3,000 during the year. EIC and TCT credit refunds don’t count as income for federal benefit purposes.
Low income individuals 65 and older or permanently and totally disabled persons under 65 may be eligible to take the Credit for the Elderly and Disabled. The rules and calculation are somewhat complicated, so getting help from one of the free services listed above may be advisable.
If you have a constituency to whom you can publicize these resources, the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities has a very rich website on EIC and CTC outreach, including outreach materials, tools, and strategies. Sue Sweeney, Chair, Department of Aging Studies, Madonna University