When faculty members at Wake Forest University’s Calloway School of Business and Accountancy heard that residents of Forsyth County were passing up on an estimated $7 million each year in tax refunds, they decided to do something about it.
“This is significant money that people don’t even realize they are eligible for,” says Yvonne Hinson, PriceWaterhouseCoopers Faculty Fellow and associate professor of accountancy at the Calloway School. “We want to use our knowledge as accounting professors and students to help bring this money back into Forsyth County.”
Hinson joined others in Forsyth County to form the Forsyth Working Families Partnership, a coalition between the Forsyth County Department of Social Services, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and other local non-profit organizations. The group was formed to educate the community about the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax refund available to working families with incomes of around $32,000 or less, and the source of potentially millions of dollars for communities across the country, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The partnership is using the IRS-sponsored program VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) to help educate local taxpayers about the credit. They are also enlisting the support of local employers and non-profit agencies in communicating to their employees and clients information about the credit and free tax assistance available throughout the county.
A kickoff event for city leaders, local employers and non-profit leaders will be held from 7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m. Nov. 14 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem. The kickoff is organized by the Calloway School in conjunction with the Forsyth Working Families Partnership.
“It is important that our city’s larger employers and agencies help us communicate the message that this money is out there,” says Kay Albright of the department of social services. “This is a way for employers to give their employees a raise without actually increasing their pay.”
To help Forsyth County residents claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, Hinson and dozens of other Forsyth County volunteers, including several Calloway School students, will assist hundreds of local taxpayers this spring through VITA. The program is free and available to lower-to-moderate income taxpayers who can file simple tax returns.
The volunteer tax preparers will pay careful attention to targeting those families and individuals eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. There is a simple worksheet to determine if a taxpayer is eligible for the credit, but in general it applies to low and moderate income residents and can mean thousands of dollars for each claim.
“The effort to educate people on the Earned Income Tax Credit is supported and encouraged by the IRS nationwide,” says Jim Boone, a specialist on the Earned Income Tax Credit with the IRS’s Greensboro Wage and Investment Division. “Studies have shown that up to 25 percent of those eligible for the credit don’t claim it.”
Hinson says residents may not take advantage of the credit for several reasons, including those, who because of income, think they do not have to file and those who simply do not know about it. Using local employers and community agencies as messengers to educate taxpayers will help, she says, as well as getting the word out about the VITA sites.
There will be at least five VITA sites around Forsyth County beginning in February. Hinson and her Calloway School students will sponsor one of the assistance sites at the Goodwill Industries building on University Parkway. It will be the second time that Calloway students have assisted with the VITA program. In 2001, students set up shop at the bus station in downtown Winston-Salem to help residents complete their tax forms.
“This is not only a great way for us to help our local community,” Hinson says. “It’s the perfect learning opportunity for these students who get to put what they learn in the classroom to work.”
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