Eligible city residents can once again have their taxes prepared for free this year thanks to the Boston Tax Help Coalition.
The group announced the launch of its 2021 tax season preparation assistance on Feb. 3, with a focus this year on providing those services with COVID-19 safety precautions in mind.
“I urge all qualified Bostonians to take advantage of the Boston Tax Help Coalition’s safe and free tax preparation,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement. “The experts at the Boston Tax Help Coalition can help residents who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 maximize their refund and receive the highest (Earned Income Tax Credit) due.”
About 13,000 local taxpayers have their taxes prepared by the coalition each year, resulting in $24 million in refunds and credits, according to officials.
Here’s what to know about the program:
Am I eligible?
City residents who worked in 2020 and made less than $57,000 qualify to have their taxes prepared for free.
The service is offered in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, French, Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
What do I need to do?
To make an appointment, qualified residents can call either 311 or schedule one online at www.bostontaxhelp.org.
Full filing services are also available online. Walk-in appointments will not be provided this year.
“The tax coalition is committed to full inclusion and serving all the residents of Boston regardless of their immigration status, so do not hesitate to call,” Yusufi Vali, executive director of the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, said during a virtual launch announcement last week.
According to Vali, the BTHC will not have its usual 30 sites available this year, but every region of Boston will have a return drop-off location.
What else should I know?
Residents who lost their jobs and income in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on may see their tax refunds “negatively impacted,” Vali said.
“The experts at BTHC can work with you to maximize your refund and get the highest earned income tax credit, or EITC, you’re due,” Vali said.
Through a “Lookback Provision” created by Congress under the most recent stimulus package, taxpayers may choose to use their 2019 earned income to determine their 2020 EITC if their 2019 income is higher than their 2020 earnings, according to city officials.
Vali said residents should bring their 2019 tax return to their preparation appointment to calculate their returns under that new rule.
“It can lead to more money for our residents,” he said.
According to Vali, the EITC is a “refundable credit for low-wage workers,” and the average amount returned to taxpayers in 2020 was $2,461. However, approximately 20 percent of all eligible filers do not receive the credit, he said.
“I cannot say enough about importance of the EITC and child tax credits,” he said. “These credits can boost your tax return by thousands of dollars, but you … cannot receive these credits unless you apply for them through your tax return.”
Filers must have a social security number to receive those credits, although filers with an individual tax ID number can still have their taxes done and receive a refund from the IRS, Vali said.
Beyond tax preparation, the BTHC also can direct taxpayers to the “Bank On Boston” city initiative, which “helps residents identify banking services that are safe, affordable, and non-predatory,” officials said.
Under the “Boston Builds Credit” program, taxpayers can also receive a financial check-up: “a one-on-one session in which a taxpayer can review his or her credit score with a guide and obtain personalized credit-building strategies,” according to city officials.
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