Last Modified: Wednesday, August 06, 2014 1:07 PM
Low- to moderate-income families in three Southwest Louisiana parishes received more than $2.9 million in tax credits this year thanks to a program where volunteers prepare their income tax returns for free.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program took place at nine sites within Calcasieu, Beauregard and Jeff Davis parishes. The United Way of Southwest Louisiana has hosted the program for the last eight years.
Michelle McInnis, United Way senior director of collective impact, said 28 volunteers helped prepare more than 1,700 tax returns this year. VITA is aimed at assisting residents who qualify for Earned Income Tax Credits, which she said “targets low- to moderate-income working families.”
According to the Internal Revenue Service website, those who earned less than $51,567 in 2013 could potentially qualify for the tax credit. McInnis said some residents are unaware that they could qualify for the credit and don’t file tax returns because they don’t earn enough income. Each year, she said, an estimated $15 million in Earned Income Tax Credits go unclaimed in Southwest Louisiana.
“At any point during the year, a family’s situation could fluctuate,” she said. “For instance, a family with three or more children could potentially receive $6,000 in Earned Income Credit that is refundable.”
McInnis said Louisiana is one of a few states that provides a state Earned Income Tax Credit. The state’s credit is 3.5 percent of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
McInnis said each volunteer is trained using IRS software and handbooks. She said they must take an online exam to become certified to prepare tax returns or answer any tax-related questions.
Several agencies partner with the VITA program, including the IRS, city of Lake Charles, Calcasieu Police Jury, Entergy, McNeese State University, Jeff Davis Bank, Foreman-Reynaud Community Center, Calcasieu Public Library, Care Help of Sulphur, BeauCare and www.myfreetaxes.com.
To volunteer as an IRS-certified tax preparer for the 2015 tax season, visit http://getconnected.unitedwayswla.org.