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Guest Blog: Tax Season is Here - Are You Aware of Tax Credits, Free Tax Prep Services, and Savings Options?

by Joanna Smith-Ramani

January 27, 2012 is annual Earned Income Tax Awareness Day. To promote "EITC Day" the Partnerships CoP asked Joanna Smith-Ramani from the D2D Fund to write a guest blog for us on important resources available to job seekers and workers.

 

It is tax time.  Many of us think tax time only offers bad news.  But, this year may be different for you.  Depending on your household income, you may be eligible for great federal tax credits you have not benn eligible for in the past, you could be eligible for free tax preparation, and there are easy ways to save at tax time – even if you do not think you can spare anything right now. 

 

Tax Credits:

Did your household income change in the past year?  If so, you may be eligible for federal tax credits that you have not been eligible for in the past.  And these tax credits can be worth thousands of dollars!  The most common tax credits are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), although there are others.  For income earned in 2011, the EITC can be worth up to $5,100 depending on income and family size.  The CTC is worth up to $1,000 per qualifying child.  These tax credits can be combined to help offset any taxes you owe the federal government and – even better – can help increase your refund depending on your tax situation.  Do not worry about knowing all of the details, your tax professional or tax software can help you compute the tax credits into your return.  Just remember, your tax liability changes from year to year – especially if your household income changed.  So, make sure to get help with your taxes so that you do not miss out on any opportunities to get the tax credits you are eligible for!  Click http://eitcoutreach.org/category/assistance-for-individual-taxpayers to learn more.

 

Free Tax Preparation:

Another way to save?  Free tax preparation! Throughout the country, trained and certified volunteers working through the IRS Volunteer Income Taxpayer Assistance program (VITA) help over 1 million people file returns for tax filers earning under $50,000.  Check out this site to see what is available in your area: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=219171,00.html.  You can also try to file online for free if you are eligible.  Click on http://freefile.irs.gov/ and it will walk you through the process of preparing your own return using online, free software. 

 

Saving at Tax Time:

Saving may be the last thing on your mind right now.  But, tax time can be the best time to save – even if you have immediate needs for your refund.  Right on the tax form, you can elect to SPLIT your refund into multiple accounts and U.S. Savings Bonds.  So, you can put some money in your bank account for immediate needs now and save a little for later.  Think about this: if you are eligible for tax credits and are using a free tax preparation service, you have saved a bunch of money this tax season and potentially receiving a bigger refund than you expected.  With as little as $50, you can stock away a portion of that refund direct into U.S. Savings Bonds and know that you made a great financial decision for you and your family.  Check out www.bondsmakeiteasy.org for more information on Tax Time U.S. Savings Bonds.  

 

This tax season, you can catch up AND get ahead using the information above.  So, take the information and share with family, friends, and others in your community.  Everyone should know about how tax season can HELP!

 

Joanna Smith-Ramani serves as the Director of Scale Strategies for the Doorway to Dreams Fund (D2D). D2D is a national non-profit focused on strengthening the financial opportunity and security of low and moderate income consumers.

 

One of the key areas that job clubs address is the mental health and emotional well-being of job-seekers. To explore this issue further and identify useful resources for job clubs, our office recently held a meeting with the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), where a panel of job club leaders discussed their experiences. 

 

First we heard from John Covington who runs a job club hosted by the Severna Park United Methodist Church in Maryland. John is also a small business owner at Chesapeake Consulting. He knows first hand what companies are looking for in an employee and feels that he can offer a unique perspective to job club attendees. John expressed the importance of addressing the mental health aspect of job club participants. He shared a story about two individuals who became emotional during a meeting. John was at a lost of how to help. His area of expertise is resume writing, and networking. Tapping into the host church's resources, he was able to call on the expertise of the pastors at Severna Park UMC to counsel the two individuals.  John stressed that in order to be in the right mindset to find a job, jobseekers need to deal with any lingering grief and anger first.

 

Next we heard from Joy Maguire-Dooley, Director of Youth and Family Services in Lisle Township, Illinois. Joy has been a part of the job club world for twenty years and she is a certified grief counselor. She explained that for her, the idea of starting a job club formed from clients coming in for counseling after being laid off or dealing with unemployment. She started off by addressing her clients' needs by helping them deal with grief and then the job networking component followed.

 

Last on our panel, we heard from Dianne Kerr, Associate Professor of Health Education at Kent State University. Dianne is a volunteer at the Community Job Club in Stow, OH. Dianne discussed the effect that unemployment has on the entire family. She explained cases where children have taken on the burden of worrying if their families will be able to put food on the table and pay the rent when their parent are not working. She has also dealt with cases where children feel that it’s their fault that their family is struggling, and they feel that if they were not around their parents would not have as many expenses.

 

After listening to our panel of job club experts, HHS administrator Maryann Robinson (United States Public Health Service Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Chief) addressed our panelists and shared some resources from her agency. SAMHSA has a variety of resources on their website that job club coordinators can incorporate into their sessions. These resources include; “How to Deal with Grief,” “Managing Stress in Later Life,” “Managing Your Stress,” and “Talking Dollars and Sense With Your Children.”  These resources can be found right here on the Partnerships CoP: https://partnerships.workforce3one.org/page/resources/1001125750025151783.

 

If you have any stories about how your job clubs have addressed the mental health barriers of job seekers, please contact me at Gerwitz.Ashley@dol.gov.

 

Ashley Gerwitz is the coordinator for this Community of Practice.

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