Families often overlook valuable Earned Income Tax Credit

Special to the HeraldJanuary 26, 2014 

This past October the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a review of 34 studies in the U.S. and UK that were designed to answer the question, "Does money affect children's outcomes?" There has been considerable evidence that kids in households with low income just don't do as well in terms of health and educational outcomes. These studies wanted to see if money alone makes a difference.

The answer is a strong YES. In fact, this review shows that "the impact of increases in income on cognitive development ... (is) ... comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programs."

The report goes on to say that "increasing household income could substantially reduce the differences in school outcomes, while also improving wider aspects of children's well-being."

This fact is particularly important to our community right now during tax season. For many families, the income tax return is the single largest infusion of cash that will occur at any time during the year.

This is particularly true for those families who are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refund. In the Bradenton-Sarasota metro area there are more than 45,000 households eligible for EITC and 75 percent of them have children.

What is the EITC and what impact does it have? It's a federal tax credit that is available only to taxpayers who have worked and have earned income.

Families whose income is up to $51,567 might qualify, and the credit can be substantial -- up to $6,000. The most current data shows that more than 18 percent of the families who filed for the EITC in Manatee and Sarasota counties received more than $3,000.

Unfortunately, the national data shows that about 20 percent of families who qualify for EITC leave their EITC refunds unclaimed. That added up to about $15 million in 2012.

There is also a clear economic impact realized as a result of the EITC. The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that "one EITC dollar -- spent at the local level -- generates as much as $1.50 to $2 in economic activity for that area."

Free tax assistance

What would help increase the likelihood that eligible families will receive the EITC? Suncoast Community Capital is the local manager of the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. For all individuals and families in Manatee County whose income is below $52,000, IRS-trained volunteers are available to help prepare income taxes for on-line submission.

Unlike for-profit income tax services, the Suncoast Community Capital VITA service does not charge a fee.

It is true that the Suncoast Community Capital VITA program cannot offer instant refunds like those being widely promoted by the national for-profit companies, and access to cash is so important to most families. But the returns through the VITA program do not charge the high fees that are a part of these "cash-today" programs and you can expect your return within about two weeks.

The Suncoast Community Capital VITA sites are in Palmetto, Bradenton and south Manatee County. This year, the Fifth Third Bank eBus is a partner as well. Furthermore, these VITA services are available in the evenings and on Saturdays and some do not require an appointment.

To find out if you or someone you know qualifies for the EITC, you can visit www.irs.gov/eitc. To learn more about Suncoast Community Capital VITA, the sites where families can go, or to schedule an appointment, please call 941-744-2666, ext. 2 or visit the Suncoast Community Capital website for more information: www.suncoastcc.com.

The EITC makes a difference to kids, families and the economic health of the community. Check it out.

Tim Dutton, is the executive director of Suncoast Community Capital.

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