Who takes credit? The Earned Income Tax Credit in Franklin County, 2011
February 24, 2012
Beginning in 2007, the Franklin County EITC Coalition began is mission to provide free, high-quality tax assistance services and to connect people to financial education resources and savings opportunities. The Franklin County EITC Coalition continues to grow, providing free tax preparation for more than 6,800 clients in the last two tax seasons. The Coalition, made up of more than 30 partners, brought more than $9 million in federal and state tax refunds into Franklin County in 2010 and 2011. The Coalition seeks to help individuals and families claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable credit that provided $2,224 to the average Franklin 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 is helping new people claim tax credits and helping people avoid exploitative fees: roughly one-quarter of clients paid for tax preparation in prior tax seasons and 15 percent did not file in the previous year;
- The project is making customers happy: roughly 40 percent of clients were return customers;
- The effort is relieving poverty: nearly one in three clients received the EITC, the nation’s largest poverty relief program;
- The coalition is growing: there were 2,327 EITC claims over the last two years, bringing more than $3.3 million into the community. Since 2007, the Coalition has more than doubled its total prepared returns, growing by 79 percent over five years;
- Despite this growth, the project still serves a fraction of the community;
- The project is using technology well: 92 percent of returns were e-filed, a higher rate than most coalitions around the country.
The report surveyed more than 400 clients and found that most are female and African American, and that most are renters, with slightly less than a quarter own their homes. The survey also found that clients heard about the service through the HandsOn 2-1-1 help line, family and friends, and radio advertisements. The primary reason clients give for using this service is that it’s free. Clients indicated they want to save portions of their refund and build financial assets at tax time. Around the country, 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 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.