Uplifting our neighbors through free tax prep

Tax filing season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. It can be difficult to do on your own and some tax services can be quite costly. Fortunately, United Way 211 partners with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition partners to alleviate the burdens of cost and stress on low -to-middle income families during this time of year.

Families with an income of $64,000 or less in 2023 can get help filing their taxes completely free of charge. These free tax preparation services are provided by IRS-certified volunteers who help our local neighbors with this process.

Terri Blevins is in her first year volunteering for free tax prep. She said she is thrilled to be in a position where she can provide assistance for the thousands of people who will be looking for support, many of whom she can empathize with.

“I look forward to assisting other members of the community who are in the same position I was in back in 2006,” said Terri.

Terri was once a recipient of the very same assistance she is now offering. Nearly 20 years ago, her car broke down shortly after paying it off. She needed a new car, but she couldn’t afford it, therefore, her and her daughter had to ride the bus. She knew she wanted to provide a new car and better things for her family, but she didn’t know how, until an opportunity presented itself and changed her life.

 “I was picking up my daughter from the Boys and Girls Club after school program and they had some flyers for the St. Louis Tax Assistance Program, and it said, ‘Free’ on there,” said Terri.

Free tax prep helps people receive all the tax credits they qualify for which gives filers the opportunity to increase their income. One of the most notable is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

EITC is the nation’s largest and most successful anti-poverty program, supplementing the earnings of low-wage workers and incentivizing work. United Way focuses on raising awareness for EITC because it offsets the burden that may come with paying taxes and has the potential to be very financially rewarding.

The average national EITC refund in 2023 was $2,541. According to the IRS, in 2023, more than 23 million workers and families nationwide received over $57 billion in EITC.

Terri was able to receive approximately $3,100 from EITC. She was able to put a down payment on a new car as well as purchase additional needed resources for her and her family. Terri is grateful for the services free tax prep was able to provide her during a difficult time. She hopes the program can be as much of a blessing to other people as it was for her.

“It helped my daughter and I have a chance when we really needed one,” said Terri. “That [tax] season helped us tremendously, our lives changed for the better. During that time, free tax prep was a Godsent blessing.”

Mariah Byrne Sullivan is the Financial Stability Initiatives Program Manager for United Way of Greater St. Louis, and she is responsible for facilitating free tax prep. She said she is proud to be a part of the process of helping people get access to free tax assistance during a time when so many people are financially strained.

“It is incredibly rewarding to connect local folks to such an important resource that not only saves them money, but puts funds back in their pockets,” said Mariah. “Especially after a year with high inflation, I’m proud to be a part of the process of helping people get access to their maximum possible refunds.”

Last year, United Way’s tax coalition partnership filed more than 19,000 tax returns in the St. Louis region, helping local low-and-middle income families receive more than $17 million in tax refunds. There were 746 IRS-certified volunteers who contributed over 34,700 hours to provide free tax prep services for people across the region.

Terri will be among those volunteers this year. She will be responsible for the intake interview process and data entry.

One of United Way’s primary goals is to help our neighbors achieve financial stability and free tax prep is a huge part of that.

“Free tax preparation services, like VITA, simplify what can be a stressful and confusing process,” said Mariah. “Tax time is a great time to save, so that families have the stability to better weather future emergencies or can work toward goals like buying a home or sending their children to college.”

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      Rodney Humphries
      Rodney Humphries

      Rodney Humphries is the Communications Specialist for United Way of Greater St. Louis and a proud graduate of Webster University where he developed his passion for writing. In college, he combined his love for writing and sports, serving as the primary sports writer for his school newspaper while also developing his own sports blog. After graduating, he continued his love for writing as he served as a freelance writer for various publications. Rodney continues to be a fan of Webster athletics, you will often see him sitting courtside at a lot of their basketball games.