Temple University now offers their Free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program on Main Campus to anyone earning $57,414 or less. Low and moderate-income residents from Pennsylvania are able to upload, mail or drop off their tax returns at the start of the 2021-22 tax filing period.
As part of the program, Fox School of Business students file tax return documents for free while lawyers and tax agents oversee them, said Steven Balsam, an accounting professor and the VITA coordinator.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VITA program is assisting clients virtually and accepting tax forms through the mail or online at GetYourRefund, a secure internet platform for uploading documents, according to a university press release.
Individuals can also drop off their tax returns at 1509 Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Temple’s Office of Community Affairs, which expanded its hours to Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesdays from noon to 5 p.m.
Other local VITA programs are located in Esperanza at 4261 North 5th Street and Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation at 301-305 North 9th Street.
Individuals with low-incomes may struggle with finding affordable tax preparers, gathering necessary documentation or they may not have a social security number, said Beth McConnell, director of policy at Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity.
“That’s why the VITA providers exist, is that they are reliable and free,” McConnell said.
McConnell encourages individuals and families who earn lower incomes, or are normally not required to file their taxes, to do so. They could be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which offers a tax break to low and moderate-income workers with children, and the Child Tax Credit, a tax break that is offered to filers with children.
The March 2021 American Rescue Plan expanded access to the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child older than six years old and from $2,000 to $3,600 for children younger than six. The act also raised the age limit for the credit from 16 to 17.
“You don’t get it if you don’t file,” McConnell said. “It’s really important for people in the community to know that they’re eligible for this tax credit.”
Previously, only individuals between the ages of 25 to 64 with no dependents were eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, but this year there is no upper age limit and people between 19 and 24, who are not full-time students, are eligible for the credit, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
People as young as 18 who experienced homelessness or were in the foster care system can also qualify for the credit, McConnell added.
Amanda Hopkins, a sophomore social work major, works two jobs and struggles to complete paperwork on platforms like TurboTax, but is interested in using Temple’s program to make the process easier and more personable.
“It’s not the same thing as meeting with someone who has your best interest at heart to make sure that you’re filing properly,” Hopkins said.
Temple’s VITA program started on the Ambler campus in 2008 because the IRS saw geographic gaps in their coverage, but were still able to accept forms from people in Philadelphia, Balsam said.
Balsam received newfound support from colleagues in expanding Temple’s VITA program to Main Campus, he wrote in an email to The Temple News. The pandemic also accelerated the expansion by allowing workers to complete tax returns remotely and asynchronously.
The average per capita income and median household income in 19002, Ambler’s ZIP code, is $59,593 and $110,041, respectively, according to Census Reporter.
In the 19121 ZIP code, the average per capita income is $16,654 and the median household income is $21,201. In the 19122 ZIP code, the average per capita income is $22,168 and the median household income is $37,198.
In 2020, the average income for American men who are full-time workers and between the ages of 20 to 24 years old was $34,424 a year, while for women it was $31,720, CNBC reported.
Temple’s VITA program has filed more than $3 million in tax returns, according to a university press release.
Last year, roughly 400 clients used VITA, Balsam said. He hopes to help approximately 1,000 filers during the 2021-22 tax season because they have expanded their hours, increased outreach through word of mouth and sent previous clients letters to encourage them to continue using their services.
Temple’s VITA program asked local libraries and local and state representatives to spread the word and refer clients to the VITA program, Balsam said.
McConnell encourages Temple to use their connections with community organizations, especially those related to food and housing assistance or job training, to bring awareness to this program.
“They’re the ones that have the most to gain from claiming these tax credits, they’re the lowest income, they’re the people living in very deep poverty and this money can make an enormous difference in their lives,” McConell said.
Fallon Roth contributed reporting.