Philly workers leave $100 million ‘on the table’ on Tax Day, advocates say

About 50,000 residents with low income don’t claim one federal tax credit, which means lower tax refund checks.

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(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

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The deadline to file your taxes is midnight on Monday, April 15.

Here are things that experts say you should keep in mind.

There are dozens of free tax preparation services available online and in person in the Philadelphia region.

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That means you don’t have to pay commercial tax preparers anything to get a refund check, let alone taking out an advance loan that may carry high interest rates and charge big fees.

“If you can hold off on taking a refund anticipation loan, refund checks are coming a lot quicker if you do electronic filing and direct deposit,” Dr. Nikia Owens, president and CEO of the Philly-based nonprofit Campaign for Working Families.

“You can get a refund back in two weeks,” Owens said.

The Campaign for Working Families even runs a free call center to answer taxpayer questions, and handled about 23,000 phone calls last year. (Those interested can call  215-454-6483.)

The most common oversight for households with low or moderate income is not applying for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

On average, about 50,000 taxpayers don’t apply for it, leaving $100 million in federal government coffers.

Individuals can check if they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, but in general, residents must have earned less than $63,398 in 2023.

There’s also the Child Tax Credit for dependent children in a household, which is often used as a deduction in conjunction with the Earned Income Tax Credit.

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About 240,000 Philadelphia residents are eligible for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance — known as VITA — services, but less than 25% sign up for it.

Temple University accounting professor and VITA site manager Steven Balsam said don’t trust just anyone to do your taxes.

“All the volunteers at VITA sites have to pass IRS exams,” Balsam said. “Anybody however can hang up a shingle and offer to do your tax returns. And you want to be careful about that.”

Citizenship is not required to file taxes. Individuals can double check if they are required to file. There is also tax preparation support in other languages, such as Spanish or Mandarin Chinese.

Next year, commercial tax preparers may be required to inform consumers of all free tax prep services and disclose their fees up front in the city of Philadelphia. A related bill is under consideration in City Council right now.

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