Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

RealSense Ready with Free Tax Help; Many Fail to Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, Director Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

RealSense Ready with Free Tax Help; Many Fail to Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, Director Says

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID BAUERLEIN

A Northeast Florida program that helps low-income taxpayers pocket refunds from Uncle Sam has geared up again to offer free tax preparation service.

The RealSense Prosperity Campaign, supported by contributions from nonprofit organizations and banks, posted its best results ever last year. The campaign completed 2,198 returns that reaped about $3.2 million in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds, or an average of roughly $1,460 per taxpayer.

But many taxpayers still fail to get what's coming to them because they never apply for the refund, said Kaye Schmitz, executive director of the RealSense Prosperity Campaign.

"Unfortunately, there's still a huge audience out there for it," she said Monday.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is different from the tax rebate checks that are part of the economic stimulus package President Bush announced he will sign Wednesday.

Those one-time rebates will go to 130 million taxpayers starting in May, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Individuals would get a rebate of up to $600, while married couples would get up to $1,200. Families with children would also get a $300 rebate per child.

In contrast, the Earned Income Tax Credit has been around since 1975 and targets a smaller audience of workers who earn paychecks on the low side. Last year, more than 22.4 million taxpayers nationwide got a refund by using the program. But the IRS says one of every five taxpayers eligible for a refund fails to file a tax return to get it.

Since 2003, the RealSense Prosperity Campaign has been working to close the gap so the tax credit delivers the maximum impact for Northeast Florida workers and the economy. Professional tax preparation businesses process an even larger number of Earned Income Tax Credit refunds for customers, but the RealSense campaign does not charge for its service. RealSense uses IRS-trained volunteers at locations in Duval, St. Johns, Nassau, Clay and Putnam counties.

The campaign's financial supporters include the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, United Way of Northeast Florida, the city of Jacksonville, Wachovia Bank, Bank of America, Winn-Dixie, and Family Foundations. …

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