Thanks to a partnership with the Center for Economic Progress, United Way of Elgin, the Grand Victoria Foundation, and Judson University, 1,113 clients from the Elgin area were able to have their federal and state taxes prepared and filed for free by certified volunteers during the 2018 tax season. These returns netted $2.34 million dollars in refunds for clients while saving an estimated $236,000 in tax preparation and filing fees.
Families who make up to $55,000—$30,000 for individuals—in income per year are eligible to have their taxes prepared through the program. Volunteers review all documents and are often able to find valuable anti-poverty tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that many people miss when going it alone. EITC Refunds alone accounted for $1.37 million of the refunds this year. Volunteers can also assist people in filing prior year returns when needed. In addition to preparing returns, they educate families on methods of building financial capacity and promote direct deposit refunds, which encourages savings rather than quick spending.
“This program would not be possible without Elgin-area volunteers stepping up and providing over 1,660 hours of free tax prep services from January to April,” said Lynne Bosley, United Way of Elgin President. “With the program’s average client earning under $20,000 per year, every dollar of their refund is critical to make ends meet, cover unexpected expenses, and start building savings.” The program especially encourages the last item—savings—by offering clients the chance to open a savings account and have their refund direct deposited. This year, 108 clients took advantage of this offering this year. Also, according to the Center for Economic Progress, the Elgin tax site continues to be one the highest-performing locations, with clients rating the service 4.8/5 or higher.
United Way of Elgin provides funding for the program, recruits volunteers, and does program outreach. Volunteers complete an online training module that certifies them by IRS Standards as a Tax Preparer, a skill they can use beyond the Free Tax Preparation Program. Volunteers commit to at least 30 hours of service during tax season. If you are interested in volunteering for the 2019 tax season, please call United Way of Elgin at 847-741-2259. Volunteer registration and training will begin in November 2018.