As a single mom with two kids, Carla Griffith walked a financial tightrope. Despite working three jobs in 2015, the Connecticut mom found herself falling behind on bills with no clear way to catch up.
“I would walk in my house and hold my breath when I flipped the light switch, hoping the electricity wasn’t turned off,” she says. And when she wasn’t worrying about the electricity, she feared her car would be repossessed for failing to make payments.
When tax season rolled around last year, Carla turned to her local United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) center. VITA centers offer free in-person tax preparation and are located in hundreds of communities across the country. There, Carla learned she was leaving money on the table by overlooking important refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit.
By claiming the credits, Carla received a refund of more than $6,000 and was able to catch up on her light bill, car payments and buy groceries for her family.
“It was so awesome to pay my bills,” she said. “It is the best feeling in the world when you look at your bill and see ‘current bill’ with no late charges or previous balance.”
To reach more tax filers, United Way also offers MyFreeTaxes.com, which is powered by H&R Block, and provides free federal and state tax preparation online to anyone earning $64,000 or less. A United Way survey of working Americans in 2015 found that 72 percent were unaware they qualify for free tax prep through MyFreeTaxes.
Since 2009, MyFreeTaxes and VITA have helped millions of U.S. taxpayers receive more than $10 billion in tax refunds and save over $2 billion in tax preparation fees.
Today, life is better for the Griffiths. Thanks to VITA and the EITC, Carla’s no longer holding her breath when she turns on the lights.