Getting FREE tax filing help and fighting predatory lending highlight the grand opening of EITCA/VITA site at Hickory Ridge Mall

The Hickory Ridge Mall now has a free tax filing help site

Hickory Ridge Mall's ETICA/VITA site is located in the north part of the mall, next to Shelby County Assessor's office

Lifelong Memphian Terry Barber wanted some help filing his taxes. Barber was unfamiliar with how to complete his forms online, and he wanted to be sure his forms were filled out correctly. He decided to come to one of our local Earned Income Tax Credit Alliance (EITCA) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to have his taxes prepared by a trained volunteer, free of charge.

Barber said he is “taken aback and appalled” at the number of people who pay hard-earned and tough-saved dollars, only to have their income tax forms prepared and filed by someone else who may take an exorbitant fee and/or charge an illegal interest rate for a loan so they can get money that is supposed to represent their tax refund. Barber has used the EITCA/VITA service for the last few years. He never has to pay a preparation fee and he gets all of his refund money instead of losing a percentage for usurious “quick anticipation loans.”

Getting free tax help

Terry Barber (left) gets help from VITA Volunteer Yvonne Howard, a member of United Way's staff

“It’s great,” he said. “All the volunteers are polite and very helpful. It’s also good to know that I am getting my taxes done right!”

Free tax preparation was offered during the grand opening of a new EITCA/VITA site last Friday at the Hickory Ridge Mall. The grand opening celebration coincided with the national Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day.

FREE tax filing help

Volunteers like Donna Wess (left) and Stephanie Lockhart are ready to help you prepare your taxes

Volunteers help individuals and/or families earning $48,362 or less prepare their taxes for free and benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit is a potentially life-changing tax credit that can substantially increase a qualifying family or person’s tax refund.  EITCA and VITA helped Mid-Southerners recover over $9 million in local tax refunds last year, with over $3 million coming through use of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Craig Barnes with Memphis Area Legal Services echoed Barber’s words about using wisdom with the preparation and filing of taxes. Barnes gave an informational presentation called “Surviving Tax Time” at the grand opening and talked about the legal “dos and don’ts” of buying a used car at tax time. Some predatory lenders offer to sell you a used car so they can get your income tax check.

“They are interested in getting that check,” he reiterated. “When they look at your tax check and say they care about you and not your credit, it means they care about your income tax check,” Barnes observed.

“If you are doling out dollars for tax preparation every year, you need to make sure you do not qualify for free tax preparation help through the Earned Income Tax Credit Alliance and VITA,” he added. “It is free and available right in our own community.”

EITCA and VITA volunteers are available through the extended April 18 date to help people file taxes. There are several locations throughout the Mid-South that will help people file if they qualify. Call 2-1-1 (or backup number 901.415.2790) to find the site in your neighborhood today.

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