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City launches free tax prep campaign

Cyril Josh Barker | 1/31/2014, 11:12 a.m.

As New Yorkers start to get their W-2s, tax companies are preparing for yet another busy season. Once again, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is urging local residents to use the city’s free tax filing services.

Because of a campaign that’s launching this month, the city began posting subway ad alerts about filing taxes for free and claiming refundable tax credits like the earned income tax credit and NYC Child Care Tax Credit.

Those who qualify can get free tax preparation by a certified volunteer. Annual income $52,000 or less (with children) or $18,000 or less (no children). Free online tax preparation services are also available for New Yorkers whose annual income is $58,000 or less.

“There are substantial tax refund dollars waiting for New Yorkers, who have, since 2002, claimed almost $20 billion in earned income tax credits alone,” said DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. “That’s why we’re making it as easy as possible for people to file their taxes and claim those refunds.”

Once again, Mintz warns against the use of refund anticipation loans (RALs), which are advertised by many companies as a means to get refunds quickly. They are predatory, high-interest loans often marketed as “instant,” “rapid” or “24-hour” refunds. They are actually expensive, high interest-bearing loans that consumers must pay back even if their refund is not as large as they had anticipated—a fact that is often not disclosed by income tax preparers. RALs are not illegal in New York City, but income tax preparers must disclose that these products are loans with annualized interest rates as high as 500 percent, significantly decreasing an expected refund.

“And since the IRS issues these refunds in such a short amount of time, there’s no reason for such expensive, often deceptively sold loans getting in between you and every dollar of your refund,” Mintz said.

The DCA inspected income tax preparers charged with violations in 2011 and 2010, as well as other preparers located in neighborhoods with large populations of immigrants and a high usage of RALs. The department found that 65 percent of businesses that received a violation and were inspected later were complying with the law.

In New York City, tax preparers must post their qualifications, fees and charges, and whether they will represent consumers at a government audit. Preparers must sign every tax return and provide their customers with a copy of their tax return and a receipt for their services.