Last month federal tax filing season opened, and Ohioans need all the information available for them to get as much of their hard-earned money back in their pockets as possible.
On Friday we marked Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day, dedicated to getting the word out about the tax credit that can be a lifeline for working families. Last year, 950,000 Ohio households claimed the EITC, and received an average refund of $2,400—but too many families don’t realize they’re eligible. One in five families who are eligible for the EITC fail to claim it, and miss out on potentially thousands of dollars.
We know that filing taxes is complicated, and it can be particularly challenging for families claiming the EITC. But getting help doesn’t need to be expensive—in fact, it can be free.
One tool available to Ohioans is the IRS Free File program, available at IRS.gov. Commercial partners of the IRS offer free brand-name software to individuals and families with incomes of $62,000 or less.
For families claiming the EITC, another option is to use one of Ohio’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. VITA sites are not only free, they are more reliable than paid sites—the majority of EITC errors result from returns filed by paid tax preparers. All VITA volunteers are trained by an organization partnering with the IRS. They know what they’re doing.
That’s why I fought to secure $3 million in additional funding for the VITA program. And it’s why I’ve introduced the VITA Act to make the VITA grant program permanent. Wall Street CEOs and billionaire corporations have armies of accountants at their disposal. I want to make sure working families across Ohio know that VITA sites are there to work for them.
Finally, whether they’re filing online or going to a VITA site, Ohioans need to be on the lookout for tax scams, and report them to authorities. Unexpected emails and phone calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatening Ohioans with arrest are always scams. The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by email, and they don’t initiate phone calls demanding immediate payment and issuing threats.
You should report possible scams immediately to 1-800-366-4484, or online at treasury.gov/tigta and select the “report scam” button.
We must ensure that all Ohioans know about the resources available to help them claim the tax credits they’ve earned.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, serves in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.