Officials are letting city residents know that the Food Bank For New York City is offering free help on filing taxes, and that New Yorkers who made less than $48,000 last year are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. NY1's Money Matters reporter Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
With tax season officially in full swing, Congressman Charles Rangel wants to make sure New Yorkers get back every penny they deserve.
"You've got to think in terms of this is your money to use for whatever purposes that you want," says Rangel.
Even those New Yorkers who did not earn enough to owe any taxes this year may still receive something from Uncle Sam. The Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the largest tax benefits for working Americans, is available to those who earned less than $48,000 in 2009. An estimated one million New Yorkers are eligible for a substantial check.
"That refund, when you add the state and city refund, could be as high as over $7,000. The average refund can be $2,700," says Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. "A couple of years ago, we added up how many EITC dollars flowed into New York -- $2.3 billion."
Once the money hits the individual's bank account, its flows into the local economy, by paying for food, clothing, tuition and rent.
"Small businesses are then able to get rid of their inventory, to hire more people and we're talking about a cycle where jobs are created," says Rangel.
Unfortunately, not everyone who qualifies takes advantage of the credit. Even though it's been around for roughly 35 years, the Internal Revenue Service believes that one in four eligible taxpayers fails to claim the funds.
"One, they even don't know it exists. Two, they know it exists but they don't know that they are eligible, and three, they can't wade through some of complex forms that are out there," says IRS Commissioner Douglas Schulman.
So the government partners with organizations across the country, like the Food Bank For New York City, to help people file their taxes easily and for free.
The Food Bank is one of the largest Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. A staff of trained volunteers, including high school students, go through months of training to help guide individuals through the tax preparation software. On average, the non-profit agency helps prepare 40,000 tax returns a year.
"Someone will come in, sit with you and help you prepare your own taxes, or if you like we can actually prepare the taxes for you," says Carlos Rodriguez of the Food Bank.
The Food Bank offers free tax services at 14 locations around the city. To find the one nearest you, call 311.