There are nearly 200 sites in the city where eligible taxpayers can have their returns done for free. NY1’s Tara Lynn Wagner filed this report.
The volunteers at Food Bank for New York City's Tax and Financial Services Center are certainly keeping busy. The site on St. Nicholas Avenue is one of 16 full service volunteer income tax assistance sites, also known as VITA sites, operated by the organization. It is also one of 200 sites around the city where qualifying taxpayers can get free tax preparation.
"I find that it is very helpful, very quickly. Less than 45 minutes," says Maryann Cepeda, who had her taxes done at the VITA site.
Last year Food Bank for New York City helped 54,000 tax filers get $85 million in refunds and credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit. For eligible taxpayers and their families, this credit often equates to a big refund.
"The single biggest check they might get out of the year. The combined federal state and city EITC will get people over $8,000 at maximum," says Triada Stampas of Food Bank for New York City.
"The average EITC refund is $2500 so we are talking about really significant money that people can use to pay rent, to pay necessities," says Consumer Affairs commissioner Julie Menin.
One of those necessities is food, which is often the first thing sacrificed when someone is struggling with their monthly bills.
"The purchases of produce and protein in the months that people get their tax credit go up. It's incredible," says Stampas.
The problem is not everyone who qualifies for the EITC is claiming it.
"We know that 1 in 5 New Yorkers is eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit but simply isn't taking it," says Menin.
That is why the city has launched a major outreach initiative, putting up subway ads and calling individual taxpayers to talk about the EITC and let them know where they can get their taxes prepared free.
If you cannot make it in person to one of the city's VITA sites, there are still ways to take advantage of these free tax services. For one thing, there is the virtual VITA program. People can leave their documents at a drop off site located anywhere in the five boroughs, and then receive a phone call from someone preparing their return remotely.
"If it's all good, they can go back to where they dropped their paperwork off and sign and file, and that's it," says Stampas.
For more information about free tax services around the city, including a list of VITA sites and drop off locations, visit nyc.gov/taxprep.