A program that helps thousands of low- to moderate-income families prepare their taxes for free is underway across the St. Louis region.
The United Way of Greater St. Louis and four local tax coalitions are offering the service throughout tax season, including taking walk-in service at 20 sites Saturday.
Families that qualify for the federal earned income tax credit can take advantage of the program. For example, a married couple with three or more children earning less than $53,000 a year would be eligible.
The United Way's community economic development director Debbie Irwin said the program not only helps these families save money on filing fees, but it also helps them avoid predatory and fraudulent providers that charge high costs.
"I've personally heard stories of individuals being charged upwards of $300 and $400 dollars for a simple return, so individuals are then able to save money by avoiding unnecessary costs that sometimes are charged related to electronic filing fees, rapid refunds and things like that," she said.
The program's certified tax preparers also help families get refunds "they deserve" by making sure they apply for all tax credits for which they qualify, Irwin said. That includes the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the so-called circuit breaker tax credit for senior citizens.
"Those tax credits are very important for working families to help them pay bills, take care of basic needs, and save money for perhaps an emergency fund or an unexpected expense," she said.
Last year, about 19,000 people received free tax preparation. Irwin expects about 20,000 area families will use the service this tax season.
Those who wish to use the service must bring required materials with them to the preparation, including all W-2's and 1099's; valid ID; social security cards or taxpayer identification numbers for all family members; and other materials. You can find a complete list at United Way's website.
People can find more information about additional times, locations and qualifications by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-427-4626. Certain "Super Saturday" locations offering walk-in tax preparation service can be found here.