Thanks to a partnership with the Center for Economic Progress, United Way of Elgin, Gail Borden Public Library, Grand Victoria Foundation and Chase, 1,556 families from the Greater Elgin Area were able to have their taxes prepared for free by certified volunteers during the 2014 tax season. These returns netted $2.93 million in federal and state refunds.
Families who make less than $50,000 and individuals with less than $25,000 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 credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that many people miss when going it alone. EITC refunds alone accounted for $1.2 million of the refunds this year. In addition to preparing returns, volunteers educate families on methods of building financial capacity and promote direct deposit refunds, which encourages savings rather than quick spending.
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"This program would not be possible without Elgin-area volunteers stepping up and donating an average of 42.5 hours of tax prep services from January to April," said Lynne Bosley, United Way of Elgin president. "Their commitment allowed the Elgin Tax Prep site to serve 26 percent more residents than in the past."
This increased capacity also allowed the site to remain open later in the evenings and add weekend hours to better accommodate working families. Even so, Lynne added, there are still many families who are not served due to space restraints.
"Our goal for next year is to recruit enough volunteers to prepare at least 1,600 returns."
United Way of Elgin provides funding for the program and conducts volunteer recruitment and 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 are asked to commit to at least 30 hours of service during tax season.
If you are interested in volunteering for the 2015 tax season, please call United Way of Elgin at (847) 741-2259. Registration and training will open in November.