Tax education pays dividends
"United Way tax-preparation volunteers really know what they're doing. They'll work with you and explain everything."
Maria, once a victim of tax preparer fraud, learned how to get the most out of her tax refund.
How does $4,000 get slashed in half in seemingly the blink of an eye?
Ask Maria Jasso — because that's exactly what happened to her in 2006 when she encountered tax preparer fraud.
At that time, Jasso filed her taxes through a tax preparation agency. She was told her tax refund would be $4,000. She agreed to pay $500 from that refund to receive the money the next day.
Not long after, however, she learned the filer had made a mistake and that she owed $1,000 back to the IRS. The filer had erroneously labeled Jasso and her husband as each being the head of household.
"They told me it would cost $500 to fix their mistake," she recalls.
Suddenly, $4,000 dwindled to $2,000 and Jasso and her family were left with much less that year than they planned and budgeted for.
Given her stressful — and costly — experience with tax preparers, Jasso was hopeful when she learned of the United Way program Earn It! Keep It! Save It! through ChildCareGroup, a United Way service provider her children attend. With three young children and one on the way, Jasso and her husband did not want to take any more chances regarding their 2009 taxes.
"It was free, so I figured 'Let me try this,'" she says.
Armed with six different W-2 forms, Jasso arrived one Saturday morning at a local Earn It! Keep It! Save It! site, where a trained volunteer walked her through each step, answering her questions and calming her fears. She was pleasantly surprised the volunteer did not charge her per W-2 form, as many tax preparation sites do.
"They really know what they're doing," Jasso says. "They'll work with you and explain everything."
Jasso initially hoped to receive $1,000 for her 2009 tax refund. With the help of the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! volunteer, who showed her how to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit, Jasso and her family received $6,000.
"And I got to keep it all," she says, adding that, like many, she wasn't even aware of the Earned Income Tax Credit and that she was eligible for that money.
Jasso's tax refund was direct deposited in her account in less than two weeks — at no extra cost. The family used that money to help pay for children's clothes, a crib and a car.