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San Diego's low-income families get help to receive thousands of dollars in tax refunds, credits

San Diego Union-Tribune - 1/24/2020

Many of the San Diego County families who qualify for — and need — tax credits and refunds don't know how to get them.

A coalition of local groups and agencies kicked off a campaign Thursday to inform people that help is available.

The groups, known as the Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition, last year helped more than 33,000 households in San Diego County receive more than $47 million in federal and state tax refunds.

More than 8,000 of those households also received more than $15 million last year through the federal government's Earned Income Tax Credit, a program to give low-to-moderate-income households a refund or reduction in taxes.

The coalition is led by the United Way of San Diego County in partnership with the county's Health and Human Services Agency, 2-1-1 San Diego and 20 additional organizations.

Coalition members say many families don't know where to start when it comes to filing their taxes or checking for federal or state tax credits. Families can make an appointment at one of 55 tax preparation locations in the county by calling 2-1-1.

Individuals are assessed for eligibility for the tax credit program. If eligible, they'll receive free tax preparation.

The amount people can get through a tax credit depends on a person's income, marital status and dependents.

To qualify for the federal tax credit program, households filing jointly must earn $56,000 a year or less. That number changes if filing as a single taxpayer and depending on the number of children claimed. For the state's program the limit is $30,000 or less, regardless of children or marital status.

Nearly 3 million families and individuals in California are eligible for the tax credit program.

"Most people don't realize that they are eligible," said Nancy Sasaki, president and CEO of United Way of San Diego County. "What is so exciting about the (earned income tax credit) is that people are getting money back, and it's an average of $2,000 to $5,000 that people get, so that really helps them."

Families with children younger than 6 can be eligible for an additional $1,000 back.

Silvia Barajas put off filing her taxes for years because she could not afford to pay a tax preparation service. Barajas, who worked as an office manager at a medical office in Escondido, said she once paid $660 to a tax preparer to file her taxes for one year.

"Of course you dread paying so much money to get your taxes done when you need that money," Barajas said. "To have something like this available is huge. The process is very easy."

She filed her taxes in 2019 with the coalition's help and received a $10,758 refund. In addition, the mother of five qualified for the federal and state earned income tax credit program and claimed another $2,531.

She paid off her credit cards and paid for her 19-year-old daughter's braces and dental work.

The coalition's goal this year is to serve more than 35,000 households and bring in more than $50 million in federal and state refunds.

The tax preparation locations will open Monday. More information can be found at www.myfreetaxes.org.

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