Across the United States, hundreds of United Ways fight for the financial stability of every person by providing free tax preparation at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites and through MyFreeTaxes.com. At VITA sites, IRS-certified volunteers help lower-income taxpayers accurately prepare their taxes with ease and at zero cost.
In 2016, United Way and partners providing free tax assistance brought more than $2.2 billion back to working families in local communities – largely thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC).
The EITC and CTC help workers keep more of what they earn to pay for things like reliable transportation to get to work, groceries for their families, and childcare. Eligibility for the credits depend on family structure and income – but the overall requirement is work. And the overall impact is immense.
Read on to understand the stories of everyday Americans whose lives are changed thanks to the power of the EITC and CTC.
James in Maryland
“Before I started as a [VITA] volunteer, I earned the EITC. That year I had my first born son- Quinn. When I received the EITC, it helped A LOT. We were in a terrible situation. I was biking to school, my internship, my job, the grocery store, and finally back home in the dark. Being a full time student, having two-part time jobs, and being a new father is not a good thing when you’re on a bike. Having the EITC expanded my income enough to buy a car.”
James later went on to become a VITA volunteer himself and has seen the powerful impact of the EITC on his own clients.
Angel in Minnesota
Angel is always on the move, she drives her three children across town every day to school and daycare, and then drives to her job. Her car is essential for her daily routine, and way of life. But Angel’s old car was sometimes dangerous to drive. The engine would often turn off and she had to learn a maneuver to put her car in neutral, re-start it, and put it back into gear—all while still moving. There’s no other option when your car keeps failing, but you can’t afford a newer one. After having her taxes prepared at her local free tax preparation site, and claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit, Angel was able to use her return to purchase a more reliable car. Angel has since become a stellar EITC advocate, testifying before her state legislature in support of this powerful credit. In the coming years, Angel plans to continue saving to pay off her (new-ish) car, and purchase a home.
Jody in Virginia
Jody, a mother of two high school students, couldn’t be more proud of her children. They both worked hard in school, and had been accepted to multiple universities. Jody wanted to help them make the best decisions they could, but long road trips, overnight stays, and time away from work for campus tours can be near impossible for a hardworking single mother. So when Jody had her taxes prepared at her local United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site and learned she’d be getting the Earned Income Tax Credit, she knew exactly how she was going to use her return. Jody took her children to see the campuses they might be staying at for the next four years. Since then, both her son and daughter have made their decisions, and Jody can rest knowing she did everything she could for her kids to have a good shot at a better life.
Kaleena in Minnesota
About a year ago, Kaleena lost her job at an elementary school due to a lack of funding. Desperately needing work, she accepted a position as a ramp agent with an airline. But with this new job came a significant pay cut. Although Kaleena is working, the change in pay affected her financial stability—she fell behind on bills and can no longer afford child care. The EITC will help Kaleena to buy a more reliable car so she can safely drive to work, and take her son to family members’ houses for care. She hopes to eventually go back to school for psychology and social work.
Jeremy in California
Jeremy works hard, but with the high cost of housing where he lives, he has trouble making ends meet. Jeremy doesn’t have children and doesn’t qualify for assistance, so he often visits food pantries to get through until the next pay day. When Jeremy filed his taxes this year with his local United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site, he learned he’d be getting the modest EITC allowed for workers that can’t claim dependents. He’ll use his return to catch up on bills, and buy groceries.
Maggie in Pennsylvania
Maggie and her husband are seasonal workers and have found themselves in a cycle of saving during the high season, and depleting their savings during the low season. It’s frustrating for them because even though they work hard year round to provide for their two children (and third on the way), it’s always hard to make ends meet.
My husband and I were married very young…and everything that we have, we earned. We were, and still are, poor. Our income is low, and inconsistent. But although money is tight, we are doing well. I am completing my last semester for my Associate’s Degree at a local Community College. We’ll use the EITC for a down payment on a car, so I can begin commuting to a University, where I will be pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. This is incredibly important to my family. This college education will be my family’s opportunity to have a better future.
In 2015 the EITC and CTC together lifted 9 million people, including 5 million children out of poverty; more than any other federal program besides Social Security. Because Maggie and her husband will be using the pro-work anti-poverty EITC, they’ll be able to lift their family up and give their children a shot at a brighter future.
Jazmin and Enrique in California
Jazmin and Enrique work hard to give their children a better life. When their daughter got the opportunity for a better education at a school in a different town, they made the choice to move the whole family. But they didn’t anticipate the drastically higher cost of living in their new hometown and had trouble finding affordable housing. While Enrique worked as a limo driver, and Jazmin pursued her degree—they quickly spent through all of their savings staying at a hotel. Fortunately, they had their taxes prepared at their local United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site, and learned they’d be getting the Earned Income Tax Credit. Jazmin and Enrique used their return to finally move into an apartment, and to pay for their son’s childcare.
Jesus in Arizona
Jesus is a hard working custodian at a state university, husband, and father of 4 (soon to be 5). For two years he has been able to have his taxes prepared at his local United Way VITA site, and has qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit. “[The EITC] means providing food, buying clothes for my kids, and reaching our family’s goals” Jesus said. Studies suggest that children in families that receive the EITC have improved academic performance in elementary and middle school, and have higher odds of finishing high school and going on to college. Hopefully, because of the EITC, Jesus’ children will be able to attend University.
Kim in Wisconsin
Extensive research has demonstrated that the EITC encourages and rewards work, and is particularly successful in raising employment rates among single mothers. This certainly was the case for Kim, a single mother of three children and a full time student. Kim held multiple jobs throughout the year as a childcare provider, cleaning lady, event coordinator, sales clerk, and entrepreneur. But even through all of that hard work, she still struggled to make ends meet and continued to accrue debt. When Kim had her taxes prepared by her local VITA site, and she learned she was eligible for the EITC. Kim said that “if it were not for the EITC, I truly believe I would have lost my home…”. She has since graduated and has one, full-time, stable job— “the best job she’s ever had”. She was also able to pay down her debt and start a savings.
Amy in Tennessee
“I’m not only a single mom, but I’m a college student. He’s my everything- I’d do anything for him…The EITC helps me to pay off debt, to buy new clothing, to put food on the table…little boys grow very fast! It’s important for him to see we can reach our goals, no matter what’s in front of us.”