By Lisa Benck, Communications & Training Specialist at CEDAM
Tax Preparation Can Be Free – Who Knew?
Every year for the last 8 or so years, I would pay for tax preparation software so that I could do my own taxes less expensively than had I paid a preparer to do them for me. I loved seeing the number on my refund spin and get higher as I put in more of my financial data for the year. All year I look forward to getting my refund and think about ways to use the money. Don’t you?
I feel pretty confident doing my own taxes, but it wasn’t always the case. I recall the year that I told my dad (who used to do them for me) that if I was old enough to own a house, then surely I could manage to do my own taxes. That first year, I found it to be confusing and a challenge. However, since then, I (mostly) don’t even think twice about it.
This year, I learned that I qualified to have my taxes done for free at one of the free VITA tax preparation sites across Michigan. At Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, trained and certified volunteers use IRS-issued software to prepare the returns, and each return undergoes a quality review before being submitted. If you are like me and are comfortable doing your own taxes, you are able to access the same free software for your own personal use. To find the approximately 400 VITA locations throughout the state or to access the free software, all you have to do is visit MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org. All of these years of spending money on software, and I had free, reputable resources at my fingertips. Who knew?
The reason for this program is to help people access a higher tax return that they can then turn into savings. It is the goal of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition and other partners to help people through financial education and asset building to build long-term stability. But before you can tap into these resources, you must know that they are available and willing to take action, which can be a challenge. I work for CEDAM, the organization that supports the MEIC, and it wasn’t until then that I realized that it even existed. The MEIC and other partnering organizations like the Asset Independent Coalition (AIC), the new Financial Empowerment Center in Lansing and others across the state are trying to do more to spread the word and encourage people to take control of their financial futures. Sometimes when people are unclear about how to do something it can cause anxiety and avoidance, but when, like me, you find out that the resources exist, not a single more moment is wasted to access my refund.
There is a direct impact on this program and how it helps people. According to IRS numbers, more than 95,000 federal returns were filed through free tax sites in Michigan. This means that as many as 110,000 tax filers and their families were served saving more than $14.25 million in potential tax filing fees, alone. Hear first-hand the results from those who took advantage of VITA centers:
Advocating for Taxpayers at Nonprofit Advocacy Day
Two weeks ago, Ross Yednock talked to participants at Nonprofit Advocacy Day, a CEDAM training about relevant issues and effective advocacy, about the current bills before the legislature that relate to financial empowerment and VITA sites. Ross is the Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition (MEIC) housed at CEDAM. The MEIC advocates for state support for the free tax sites that are available and for taxpayer education on importance of avoiding refund anticipation loans, high-cost, short term loans that disproportionately target lower income taxpayers who can least afford them.
Encouraging our legislators to understand the number of people in Michigan that are able to best increase their resources and begin to build assets. This is just one portion of financial empowerment that can help people to change their situation. Financial empowerment involves an array of other opportunities to learn including budgeting, eliminating debt, children’s savings accounts and more. To learn more about what is available to help empower Michigan, check out The Bright Side episode: Michigan $aves, hosted by Nick Metzger of State Farm Insurance:
Advocacy Day, and other training opportunities, are supported by a grant from State Farm. State Farm encourages its employees and all citizens to take an interest in civic and political affairs, to register to vote, and to vote. State Farm encourages employees to be involved in public issues, and to support the parties and candidates of their choice. State Farm’s policy is non-partisanship with respect to parties and candidates.