Who takes credit? The Earned Income Tax Credit in Cuyahoga County, 2011

February 24, 2012
   
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Executive Summary

Established in 2005, the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition began is mission to provide free, high-quality tax-assistance services in the Cleveland area. The Coalition continues to grow, providing services to more than 9,400 clients in the last tax seasons. The Coalition includes more than 40 partners and brought more than $15 million in federal and state tax refunds to the county in 2011. It seeks to help individuals and families claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable credit that provided $2,303 to the average Cuyahoga County recipient. The Coalition serves low- and moderate-income working families earning up to $49,000. This report analyzes the Coalition’s free tax program and summarizes a survey we conducted of Coalition clients. Findings include:

  • The Coalition assists people who hadn’t claimed tax credits before and helps them avoid exploitative fees: roughly one-fifth paid for tax preparation in prior years and 10 percent did not file in the previous year;
  • The project is making customers happy: more than half of clients were return customers;
  • The effort is relieving poverty for families with children: one in three clients received the EITC, the nation’s largest poverty relief program;
  • The Coalition is growing: there were 2,952 EITC claims last year, bringing more than $4.5 million into the community, and since 2005, the Coalition has more than doubled its total prepared returns, growing by 369 percent over 7 years.
  • The Coalition now includes Lucas and Lorain counties;
  • Many clients have checking accounts but do not have adequate savings; as a result, they use check cashers, purchase money orders, and borrow on expensive short-term credit.

We surveyed more than 2,000 clients and found that most are female and African American, and fewer than a quarter own homes. The survey found that clients heard about the service through the 2-1-1 help line, family, friends, and radio ads. The primary reason clients gave for using this service is that it’s free. Some indicated that they want to save part of their refund. Nationally, successful asset-building initiatives implemented during the flow of tax sites include purchasing U.S. Savings Bonds, opening savings accounts with incentives, and analyzing credit scores.

In short, the report found that the Coalition’s efforts are bringing new federal money into the economy, relieving poverty, reducing the use of exploitative loans and doing a good job with technology and customer satisfaction. It is crucial that we devise ways to help bring the project to scale so that it is helping a larger portion of the community.

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