Courtney O’Reilly, director of Tax Help Colorado, a VITA participant that worked with Code for America in 2020, said that even without a pandemic, traditional VITA sites might not always be convenient for working families. People may be unable to take time off work to visit the location, and they may have to wait in line.
“Free doesn’t always mean accessible,” Ms. O’Reilly said.
Two years ago, the group started looking for ways to reach more families eligible for the earned-income tax credit, she said, and has found the Get Your Refund platform helpful.
Using the Get Your Refund website or mobile app, filers can verify their identities and upload tax documents, then talk to a volunteer who will prepare their return, all without meeting with someone in person. The one-on-one help is crucial. Research by Code for America and others has found that telling people about the tax credit isn’t enough by itself to get them to claim it. People are often intimidated by the required tax information and may need help to complete the forms.
Here are some questions and answers about the earned-income tax credit:
How does the earned-income tax credit work?
Credits are subtracted from the amount that you owe in taxes. The earned-income tax credit is “refundable,” which means that if a family’s credit is more than it owes in taxes, the excess is paid out as a refund.
The amount of the credit varies based on your income, family size and filing status. For the tax year 2020, the credit is available for filers earning up to about $57,000. The maximum credit is $6,660.
What if my income dropped in 2020 because of the pandemic?
The latest round of federal pandemic relief addressed this situation. When you file your tax return for 2020, you will be able to use the income you earned in 2019 to qualify for the earned-income tax credit, as well as for the refundable portion of the child tax credit, if it results in larger credits. Generally, the amount of your credits increases as your earnings rise, up to the maximum allowable credits.
When does tax filing season begin?
The I.R.S. usually starts accepting tax returns in late January. People claiming the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit typically file early. By law, as a fraud-prevention measure, the I.R.S. doesn’t pay out tax refunds for returns claiming the credits before mid-February.