Saturday, April 13, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Every year, America’s libraries and their partners help make tax season a bit more bearable. Whether it’s providing free internet access, offering financial literacy classes or hosting free tax preparation assistance, libraries have tools to help taxpayers turn an annual obligation into an opportunity to improve their overall financial well-being. This is especially true for low- and moderate-income individuals and families who work several jobs just to make ends meet.
April 7 marked the end of Money Smart Week and the beginning of National Library Week, an annual celebration of the vast contributions of our nation’s libraries and library workers to their communities — and there is a lot to celebrate.
America’s more than 16,500 public libraries are vital community centers where — in addition to tax prep support — residents can access an array of year-round programs and services such as free technology training, online health resources, homework assistance and summer reading programs.
In libraries across the country, thousands of IRS-certified volunteers are hard at work assisting those in need of free IRS-sponsored tax preparation help, thanks to programs like Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Tax Counseling for the Elderly and AARP Tax-Aide.
These volunteers are trained to help low- and moderate-income taxpayers, older Americans, people with disabilities and those whose first language is not English correctly prepare and file their tax returns. For those who prefer to prepare their own returns, there is an online option for free tax preparation that libraries can direct them to, via the IRS and State Free File programs.
Free File helps taxpayers file at no cost through a public-private partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a group of tax preparation companies that provide free commercial online tax preparation and electronic filing to qualifying taxpayers. If individuals or families earned $66,000 or less last year, they are eligible to use brand-name tax preparation software to file their federal (and in many cases, state) taxes free of charge. Since Free File was formed in 2003, more than 53 million returns have been enabled, saving taxpayers an estimated $1.5 billion in tax preparation fees.
Altogether, Free File, VITA, and TCE serve more than 5 million taxpayers annually. These services are providing public libraries nationwide with the tools they need to empower people to take control of their financial health.
In addition to saving on tax preparation costs, these programs help taxpayers maximize their refund and claim all the credits they deserve, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, all while encouraging them to jumpstart their savings by setting aside part of their refund, thereby increasing their overall financial stability. Last year alone, 25 million eligible workers and families received on average $2,488 thanks to the tax credit.
Because of the work of countless libraries, as many taxpayers as possible have the necessary access to the tools and assistance needed to file their returns. To access free resources promoting these programs and other ways to save at tax time, visit TaxTimeAllies.org.
Tax time can be stressful, but thanks to the efforts of public libraries and community-based organizations, it can be a moment for hardworking families to improve their financial health. This National Library Week, let’s take a moment to recognize the importance of public libraries that are committed to providing information and services to improve Americans’ financial well-being.
Loida Garcia-Febo is president of the American Library Association and Ed Black is president and CEO of Computer & Communications Industry Association. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.