Make An Impact This Tax Season

The 2017 tax season is underway, and folks are hastily filing their taxes. The accompanying refund is always a welcome site for taxpayers, as the extra cash can give some people an opportunity to splurge on a nice dinner or save for an upcoming vacation. But for others, the tax return is necessary in order to pay for this week’s groceries or next month’s rent.

The most elementary components of our financial system can be difficult to understand, and the new federal tax-reform law has made substantial changes to a topic that is already extremely complex. Some people can hire qualified tax preparers to help them receive the full benefit of their tax return – but others can’t afford that luxury. For low-income families, a tax refund can be an opportunity to alleviate heavy financial distress, yet without help many will only see a fraction of their total refund, if any at all.

To tackle this challenge, we support Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs in our Neighborhood Networks. These services offer free tax assistance for households that make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and taxpayers for whom English is a second language. VITA programs have a high accuracy rate and are trusted in the neighborhoods in which they operate, which is perfect for low-income families who are often left susceptible to predatory tax preparation practices.

Ladder Up is one of our partners in this work. In 2017 they engaged over 1,000 volunteers who helped secure $17.5 million in tax refunds for the community. Ladder Up has also incorporated financial literacy services that help educate taxpayers about other eligibilities, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable credit for low-income workers that can reduce their taxes while increasing their refund.

Jennifer Lambert, Ladder Up’s TAP Program Manager, believes that tax season is an opportunity to invest in the community on a broader scale. “We’ve begun to try to integrate financial literacy with the tax assistance workshops because the two programs are so closely intertwined,” Lambert explains. “Many of our clients return year after year, but ultimately our goal is to give them skills to do these things on their own.”

Ladder Up’s tax assistance program relies on a group of generous volunteers who give up their time during the busy tax season. Some of the volunteers that serve with Ladder Up are in the finance or law industry, but “off-the-street” volunteers make up a significant portion of their volunteer base as well. And there’s always a need. At United Way, part of our mission is to fight for the financial stability of every person in Chicago. In order to continue offering programs like VITA and financial literacy resources, we need your help! Our partners at Ladder Up and Center for Economic Progress still need volunteers. Join the fight for a stronger and more financially stable region. Click here to get involved and volunteer with a VITA program near you.

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