- About Us
- Community Resources
- Community Organizing
- Campaign Central
- Affinity Groups
Free Income Tax Assistance Now Available
|Starting February 1st, people will be able to take advantage of free tax preparation and filing services. These services are provided by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs. There will be VITA sites throughout the county. Some sites will be in community centers, public libraries, senior centers, and family resource centers. There are daytimes, evenings and weekend times available. This service is made possible through the continued support of the United Way of Santa Cruz and the IRS.||Download a 2012
Free Tax Preparation calendar
VITA enables residents to file for tax refunds and credits without paying any fees. The United Way, along with many other service agencies in the county encourage people to file for free, direct deposit their refund and avoid refund anticipation loans. “Every year, local families lose thousands of dollars during tax season, not to theft or fraud, but to high-cost tax refund loans,” says Dori Rose Inda of the Watsonville Law Center. “This is an increasing problem along the Central Coast as individuals are taken advantage of with promises of fast, quick money when they need it the most.”
Families that earned $49,000 or less in 2011 can use VITA free tax preparation and filing services. Last year, VITA sites sponsored by Santa Cruz Community Credit Union (SCCCU) and Santa Cruz Community Ventures (SCCV) assisted 500 low-income households claim their refunds. The average refund equaled another month’s wages. These funds can give a family a financial safety net. The Seniors Council sponsors many sites for people throughout the county. Helpful agencies warn people about “Instant Tax Refunds.” Most tax filers do not understand that an “Instant tax refund” is more than likely a loan that can have interest rates of over 200%. This interest rate, on top of other fees, will be deducted automatically from their return, and individuals can even be charged for “service” and “processing” fees on “instant” tax refunds thus decreasing their “return” even more.
“One of the many reasons people get “instant tax refund loans is the misconception that returns can take weeks to get to them. This, however, is simply not true,” Inda says, “The fastest way to get your return is for you or your tax preparer to file electronically, and have your return deposited automatically into your own bank account. This can happen in as little as a few days or a week.”
Tax refunds bring federal and state money into our community. In 2011 the SCCCU/SCCV VITA sites brought $768,265 into the hands of low income working families within Santa Cruz County.
Many individuals are unaware of the tax credits that are available or think they don’t need to file. It’s unfortunate when people don’t get the refunds they deserve because they did not file an income tax return. One such credit is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This is a credit primarily for working families with children. Some individuals qualify for EITC too. This federal credit can be up to $5,700; the average was just under $2,000 at SCCCU/SCCV sites last year.
To promote awareness of EITC, an event will be held on January 27th at the Watsonville Farmers Market. Community leaders will discuss how the credit has impacted our community and people that they serve within their respective organizations. Attendees can get a free calendar of the upcoming VITA sites.
Here are a few things you can do to protect your refund: Obtain information by contacting Santa Cruz Community Ventures at 831-460-2361 or call the 2-1-1 hotline. Don’t pay to borrow your own tax refund. Don’t waste you’re your money on an “instant” refund just to get it a few days sooner. When you receive your entire tax refund, you’ll be happy that you waited.