City prepares to offer free tax services

Cyril Josh Barker | 1/21/2016, 3:31 p.m.
As tax season begins, tax companies are once again targeting low-income filers with the so-called convenience of refund anticipation loans.
taxes Flickr

As tax season begins, tax companies are once again targeting low-income filers with the so-called convenience of refund anticipation loans. However, experts continue to say that before taking the loan that could cost you more in the long run, take a look at some other options.

Commercials and posters are in heavy rotation this time of year for RALs, which are similar to payday loans, offering money from a refund immediately. The amount is secured by your tax refund, but interest rates can go as high as 600 percent. Upon filing, customers are offered the option of receiving money right away, and then paying the money back when their actual refund comes in.

Coupled with fees that tax preparers already charge for services, the procedure can be very costly to a consumer. According to the National Consumer Law Center, in 2014, a mere 34,000 consumers applied for non-bank RALs. In 2013, the first year in which only non-bank lenders made RALs, only 100,000 consumers applied for the loans. In comparison, approximately 12.7 million consumers obtained RALs at the height of the industry in 2002.

Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York State Department of Taxation and Finance Nonie Manion encourages New Yorkers to take advantage of the many options available for filing their taxes for free or at very low cost.

“For many families, the most important financial transaction of the year is filing an income tax return,” Manion said. “So it’s important to get that return prepared by someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who knows the rules, which is certainly the case when you call on well-trained, accuracy-minded volunteers staffing the city’s 200 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance locations.”

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.

The city offers several ways to file taxes. New Yorkers who earn $62,000 or less may qualify for free tax prep services, including online filing and in-person filing with a certified preparer.

The Internal Revenue Service will begin processing individual income tax returns Jan. 19.

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance announced in December that working families received more than $1 billion from the New York State Earned Income Tax Credit in 2015. It’s the highest ever dollar amount of EITC benefits paid in a year.

EITCs are refundable federal, state and New York City income tax credits available to eligible working individuals and families. Eligible taxpayers can claim the credit when they file their income taxes.

In 2016, the Tax Department will host more than 90 Free Tax Assistance sites, up from 80 last year and 14 in 2013. Locations and available times will be available on the department’s website this month.

“The EITC is the most effective tool we have in helping middle- and low-income families escape poverty and achieve increased economic security,” said New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Samuel D. Roberts. “It provides eligible working New Yorkers with an infusion of resources that serves to significantly increase their income.”