EITC Awareness Day – January 28, 2011

Earned Income Tax Credit Can Put Money in Your Pocket

You could be eligible to get more money back from the IRS – as much as $5,666.

If you earned less than $48,362 from wages, self-employment or farming last year, you may qualify for a refundable tax credit called the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. But you must file a federal income tax return claiming the credit to get it.

EITC can be a big financial boost for working people hit by hard economic times. Many individuals who saw their incomes drop in 2010 may qualify for the first time.

The credit has been making the lives of workers a little easier for more than 35 years. Yet it remains little known, possibly because people move into and out of eligibility as their financial, marital and parental statuses change. IRS estimates four of five eligible people claim and get their EITC.

Unlike other tax credits, both EITC eligibility and the amount of the credit is based on several factors such as the source and amount of your income, or combined incomes if married, whether you have qualifying children and how many. Workers without children also may qualify.

The amount of the credit peaks then phases out at certain income limitations depending on filing status and other factors. You may qualify for EITC even if you had no federal tax withheld or are not otherwise required to file.

The credit is complex, but worth exploring. It’s even more valuable if your state has a corresponding tax credit. (New Jersey does have their own.)

The online EITC Assistant at www.irs.gov/eitc can help determine your eligibility and estimate the amount of your credit. Free help preparing your return and claiming EITC is available at volunteer income tax assistance sites and IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers. To locate a volunteer site, call your community’s 211 or 311 number for local services or call the IRS at 1-800-906-9887. Find an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in the blue pages of your telephone directory.

Remember: if you are eligible, you must file a federal income tax return, even if you are not otherwise required to file, and you must specifically claim the credit to get it. Find more information about EITC at www.irs.gov or in your tax software package.

According to the IRS, rural and non-traditional families — such as grandparents raising grandchildren — childless workers, and non-English speaking taxpayers are among those who most frequently overlook the credit.

AARP Tax-Aide

The following bulletin was issued by the AARP Foundation, located in Washington, D.C. The service performed by AARP compliments the work of VITA sites (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and IRS’ Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

AARP Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service. It is available to taxpayers with low- and moderate-income, with special attention to those age 60 and older. Last year AARP Tax-Aide served 2.5 million taxpayers at 6,500 sites across the country. The sites are located in libraries, community centers, senior centers, and other convenient locations and are open in 2011 from approximately late January/early February to mid-April. The filing deadline in 2011 is April 18.

AARP Tax-Aide provides this free service regardless of age or AARP membership. Volunteers are trained to assist in filing the 1040 tax form and Schedules A, B, C-EZ, D, and EIC. Taxpayers with complex tax returns are advised to seek paid tax assistance. AARP Tax-Aide, a program of AARP Foundation, has been providing a valuable service to taxpayers in communities across the country for over 42 years.

Finding or referring people, to a nearby AARP Tax-Aide site is easy and quick to do. You can either refer people directly to the web site or to a toll free number. Assistance can be located by:

1) Calling 888-227-7669. The toll free site locator number is very easy to use. A caller is asked to enter their zip code either by voice or manually entering it with their phone. They are then given all of the information on the nearest site. They are also given an option for additional sites.

2) Go directly to the AARP web site which allows you to search for the caller by their zip code if they do not have internet access or don’t want to use the web site themselves. Simply go to http://www.aarp.org/applications/VMISLocator/searchTaxAideLocations.action.

Energy Tips: How To Navigate The System To Get Help

It seems this will be a hard winter. Unemployment still high, colder than average temperatures in the state, delayed energy funding etc etc etc. If you work in a social service agency and need to provide the public with helpful information then read the tips below. It may help your client navigate the system a little easier.

If you have applied for LIHEAP and/or USF via your local intake agency and your case is still pending, you can obtain quick information on the status of your case by calling the LIHEAP/USF Hotline at 800-510-3102. They are open from Monday through Saturday from 8am to 5pm. Yes, even Saturday. You do not have to call the agency that is processing your application to get up-to-date information. In fact, by calling the hotline you free up the local agency to process applications rather than answering phone inquires.

If you receive a Universal Service Fund (USF) credit but you move, you should call the utility company and tell them you want to have your USF transferred to your new address. They will then recalculate your energy usage and have the state make a determination as how much of a credit you may be eligible for at the new address. USF benefits won’t automatically follow you to your new address. As a USF customer you have to call them and ask to have your USF credit transferred. This feature of the USF is called Portability.

Case Name vs. Customer Name. Some customers when shutoff resort to having the service turned on in another person’s name – friend, family member, etc. However, doing so eliminates the likelihood of getting assistance from either welfare or through the Universal Service Fund program. If you have a bill problem seek help. Don’t compound the problem.

When you are talking to a customer service representative at a utility company, remember to write down the name of the person you spoke to. Often they will type notes into their computer system but not always. You should write down what was said and who you spoke to. The same holds true when calling a social service agency.

The Winter Termination Program (WTP) protects certain households against a utility shutoff during the winter. The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) – www.bpu.state.nj.us – advises the following, “Those enrolled in specific programs (such as SSI, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, USF and Lifeline) are protected by WTP, and an additional “catch-all” category is included for people unable to pay their utility bills because of circumstances beyond their control such as unemployment or illness.” This is found on the BPU website at www.bpu.state.nj.us/bpu/assistance/programs/. A full list of the protected categories under the WTP can be found at www.njcommunityresources.info/wtp.html.

It is the customer’s responsibility to let the utility company know they are WTP protected.

“Circumstances beyond their control” is a key phrase which could help thousands prevent a shutoff, if you know your rights as a utility customer or read the bill message insert when you get a shutoff notice. You can request protection under the WTP by calling the utility company or if that fails by calling the BPU Customer Assistance hotline at 800-624-0241.

A bill will be estimated if the utility is unable to get a true reading. If your bill has been estimated for more than one month it is in your best interest to read the meter and call it in or to arrange for meter reader access. Most utility company websites have information about how to read the meter. Look at your bill to know when the next reading will occur. It is difficult to make an arrangement on a back bill if it has been estimated for a number of months.

Bill assistance is not the only answer. Energy conservation will reduce consumption and lower your monthly bill. A few websites and programs to inquire about include:

Weatherization Assistance Program. A downloadable list is available at www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dhcr/forms/docs/wealist.doc or telephone 866-551-7165. It is available to households earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Index.

Comfort Partners. Visit www.njcleanenergy.com/residential/programs/comfort-partners/comfort-partners or telephone 888-773-8326.

Energy Savers Booklet published by the U.S. Department of Energy is available online at www.energysavers.gov/pdfs/energy_savers.pdf.

Many utility company websites – see www.njcommunityresources.info/nj.html#utilities – provide information if you search under ‘energy conservation’ or ‘weatherization’.