Help for those who have tax credits coming

If you know someone who might qualify for the California earned income tax credit, we hope you urge them to make a “bus stop” on Saturday.

The bus in question will be parked at Ceres Christian Church, 3502 Roeding Road, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. People who have earned wages during the past year, but haven’t earned a lot, will be able to get help filling out their state and federal tax forms and learn if they qualify for earned income tax credits. If they do, it could mean a substantial amount going back into their pockets.

Many people and families who qualify don’t realize it. Which is why the state is asking for help in getting out the word.

Nearly a tenth of Stanislaus County’s residents qualify for the EIC. Most will get an extra $600 to $900 in their state tax refund – but only if they apply. If they also qualify for the more restrictive federal earned income tax credit, that could go up to $6,500.

The reason the state needs a bus is because, so far, residents have allowed $1.8 billion in tax credits to go unclaimed.

The catch is that you must file a tax return to claim your credit – even if you owe nothing. The problem is that many people who qualify have earned so little they don’t bother filling out returns. So they never know. That’s where the bus comes in. There will be people there to help folks figure out their eligibility and help them fill out tax forms. If that’s not enough, they’re even providing lunch and activities for kids.

Fortunately, some 6,000 Stanislaus residents have filed for the state credit, and they’ve gotten back a combined $3.79 million. Since these are the working poor, virtually every penny of that money has gone back into our economy – for food, clothes, gasoline, school supplies, etc. If all 15,000 people who are eligible got what is coming to them, the total would rise to nearly $10 million for our local economy.

The numbers are similar in Merced County, where 7,500 are eligible for the credit but only 3,000 have claimed it. They, too, are welcome to come to the bus. If they do, Merced’s economy could see a $2.4 million boost.

“Our goal is to reach all eligible families throughout the state,” said Joseph Sanberg, chair of the outreach effort. He says people should bring their W-2 forms, a Social Security card and any banking information.

And no, it’s not too late. Taxes aren’t due until April 18 (Monday) this year. Last year, the weekend prior to the deadline was twice as busy as any other. After all, even people expecting a refund put off doing their taxes.

Unfortunately, there are a few people who would rather not see the bus arrive. During a recent visit to Fresno, someone pulled up the curbside signs advertising the free services available and replaced them with signs for those offering paid tax assistance. Often, it costs around $200 to have your taxes prepared.

This isn’t charity, as Sanberg pointed out: “We’re helping working families claim the tax refunds they’ve earned.”

And when they spend the refunds, it helps our entire economy. For those who qualify, making this bus stop is worth it.