Insider NJ

Acting Governor Oliver, Mayor Baraka, Join New Jersey Citizen Action's Launch Of Tax Season At Free Tax Preparation Center

Taxpayers should file at free VITA site to avoid frauds, scams and unnecessary fees

Insider NJ — February 7, 2020

Newark — Acting Governor Sheila Oliver today joined New Jersey Citizen Action, Mayor Ras J. Baraka, local legislators, community partners and tax clients for a press conference kicking off the 202o tax season at NJCA's Economic Security Center, which houses a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site where free tax preparation is available. As tax season gets underway, filers might be charged unnecessary fees at for-profit tax firms, and can be vulnerable to fraudsters trying to steal from them.

"With tax scams and fraud on the rise, it's more important than ever that eligible New Jersey taxpayers take full advantage of legitimate, free tax preparation services," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, Executive Director of New Jersey Citizen Action. "We also strongly recommend that they file their taxes early."

"Preparing taxes can be a challenging and daunting task for many New Jerseyans and I'm grateful to NJ Citizen Action for offering this beneficial service to help residents avoid tax scams and keep on top of their financial responsibilities," said Acting Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. "Accurately filing your taxes is critical to your financial health and I urge people to take advantage of this free assistance."

"Once again, caring community organizations are offering access to free tax preparation to enable residents to get the highest refund possible," said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. "Thousands of our Newark residents need assistance in filling out these forms and often leave money on the table, which can be used to buy groceries, pay a bill, or save for their future. I am urging Newarkers to take full advantage of this program and claim any refund they may have earned."

Over the past 13 years NJCA has provided free tax preparation services for more than 48,000 individuals, returning more than $81.5 million for New Jersey families, workers and the elderly. The organization also provides education and outreach to low-income individuals and families to raise awareness of eligibility for the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs), and the availability of free tax preparation through VITA sites across the state. Tax clients like Winston George of Irvington have chosen to have their taxes prepared with NJCA's VITA site after their experiences at for-profit tax companies.

"Last year I went to Jackson Hewitt in Newark and they charged me $211 to prepare my taxes," George said. "They also charged me $49.95 to put my refund on an American Express card which their website said was free. And finally they neglected to tell me I could have my refund deposited directly to my bank account for no charge at all. I felt like I was robbed! This year, I came to NJCA, who really prepared my taxes for free, and I distributed their literature to my fellow employees at UPS."

The free VITA sites and organizations that support them, such as United Way of Greater Newark, which coordinates the Newark Asset-Based Coalition (NABC), play an important role in the financial well-being of low- and moderate-income families throughout the state.

"We are excited to once again provide the opportunity to prepare tax returns for free, saving residents hundreds of dollars in tax preparation fees. Additionally, once refunds are dispersed, it allows for individuals to save money, catch up on bills and purchase some of the basic necessities that they may not have otherwise had the funds," said Catherine Wilson, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Newark.

NJCA's Economic Security Center's VITA site is open Mondays thru Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The free tax preparation services provided by IRS-certified personnel are available in English and Spanish to individuals and families making less than $60,000 annually, and helps those eligible claim the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits. For more information on VITA sites throughout the state, visit https://www.nj211.org/nj-free-tax-assistance-locations.

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