For many working families, living paycheck to paycheck has become a fact of life. Covering housing costs, repairing the car, paying for medical expenses, working to reduce debt, or saving for emergencies are things we all address regularly. And I doubt I’m in the minority when I say that I anticipate receiving my income tax return each year so that I can pay off debt, stash some money for savings, and if my budget allows, plan a weekend getaway.
For working families who are struggling to make ends meet, utilizing their tax refund as a way to infuse some additional capital in their budget is no different. These are families who are simply trying to provide a safe home, food on the table, and clothes for their children. Families are relying on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) at tax time to help achieve those goals. These are pro-work, pro-family credits that help Utahns keep more of what they earn. Families who qualify for these credits are in our lives everyday. The teachers and staff at your child’s school, public safety officers, the gas station attendant, your neighbor, the barista who hands you your coffee, the person providing child care for your family, and perhaps even people in your office.
Earn It. Keep It. Save It. (EIKISI) is Utah’s statewide campaign to strengthen family financial stability and we work with many working families to ensure they have knowledge of and access to tax credits at tax time that will benefit their families. One of the most valuable services we provide is preparing income taxes for free at designated Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites for low- to moderate-income families. According to the most recent client survey data, collected at VITA sites across the state, we know that a resounding majority, (87%), of families have a checking account and pay their bills on time and 71% follow a regular budget. Saving is also a high priority with 37% saving each paycheck and only 11% have credit card debt in excess of $10K.
Taking stock in the assets that families have is only a part of the larger picture. We also ask families what they intend to do with their upcoming tax return. Again, according to the same data, 45% of VITA clients intended to save a portion of their refund, 37% intended to reduce debt, and over a third needed it to cover groceries and utilities (33% and 31% respectively).
EIKISI, collectively through the work of our volunteers and partners, in tax year 2014 (completed in April 2015) prepared taxes for 20,659 households, saving them a total of $4.4 million in tax preparation fees. Twenty-Nine percent qualified for the federal EITC and 16% qualified for the CTC. In all, $25 million in income tax refunds came back into the pockets of working Utah families and in effect into our local economy.
It is quite clear that free tax preparation services and tax credits are vital resources to working Utah families and our economy. Earn It. Keep It. Save It. is joining forces with others across the state and our country to preserve tax credits that benefit working families. To learn more please visit www.utahfamilytaxcredits.org. And to find out more about Earn it. Keep it. Save it. and how you can get your taxes filed for free or learn about volunteer opportunities, visit www.utahtaxhelp.org.
Kate Rubalcava is the Earn It. Keep It. Save It. Program Director at Community Action Partnership of Utah.