What Is EKS?
Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS) is a coalition of Bay Area organizations that provide free tax preparation to households earning less than $54,000 a year. United Way Bay Area partners with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), churches, nonprofits, and other organizations to scale the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) effort across the region.
Our mission is to provide free tax preparation service as a tool to help Bay Area residents become financially stable. Our program is part of United Way Bay Area’s strategic initiative to cut local poverty in half.
Why this work is important
Poverty is ever present in the Bay Area. Having a job is no longer a guarantee for adequate income. Local families require three full-time, minimum wage jobs to pay for basic necessities.
Too many Californians – far too many here in the Bay Area – work hard yet find themselves unable to meet their most basic needs. Furthermore, tax season can be stressful time for many people, as they round up tax documents and receipts, and make sense of confusing tax forms. Those of us who can afford it may pay for tax software that walks us through the process, or we may pay a tax preparer to file on our behalf. But the cost for paid preparers can be costly, and tax software varies widely in price. For low-income families who may not be able to afford these services, tax time can be a significant source of stress, and securing a full refund is not assured. Additionally, many of these families face additional challenges in doing their own taxes –English may not be their primary language or they may have limited computer skills. This is why EKS is so important in our community.
Benefits of EKS
Here are the key benefits of free tax preparation and tax refunds on taxpayers and their households:
- The tax help is FREE! — Did you know that paying to have your taxes prepared can cost $200 to $300 on average? And last year, the average AGI (adjusted gross income) of a VITA taxpayer we helped was ~$22,000! Households earning this amount or less than the $54,000 IRS limit for VITA truly cannot afford to pay, especially in the Bay Area where the cost of living is so high! By preparing tax returns for free, we save our taxpayers over $1M in tax prep fees alone. That means they are getting more of their refund dollars back (or at least do not have to pay fees on top of any amount owed on their tax return).
- Refunds boost local economy – We help low-income working families save money and get all the credits they qualify for. Refunds, usually spent on basic necessities, go right back into the local economy and strengthen the economic well-being of our region.
- Awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) -– Many taxpayers do not know about the EITC and that it is a refundable tax credit that can be up to $6,318 for a family with three qualifying children. With this refundable tax credit, individuals and families can get money back, even if they had no taxes withheld. For families who qualify, the EITC can be the single largest check they receive all year. Nationally, more than 27 million individuals received over $63B in EITC last year, lifting 3.3 million of them out of poverty. Despite this impact, billions went unclaimed by eligible families, with over $1B left on the table in California alone. EKS sites help families get all the credits they qualify for.
- Helping taxpayers avoid refund anticipation loans -– When residents get an “instant refund” from a paid preparer, they are taking a loan out on their own money usually paying 300% interest. However, with direct deposit, an EKS site can e-file your tax return and have your refund deposited into your bank account in 7 to 10 days.
In addition to these crucial benefits, tax refunds have a long life in our communities. In fact, the tax refunds returned to low income households is spent locally and multiplies. From 2003-2010, Earn It! Keep It! Save It! created $228.5 million in local sales, 1,057 jobs and $55 million in wages. This gives our local economy a boost year after year!
How We Do It
We train volunteer tax preparers to help individuals and families claim their maximum benefit and refund. We partner with hundreds of community organizations and other free tax preparation providers such as Tax-Aid and AARP Tax-Aide to process over 80,000 tax returns each year. Through our free, quality tax return preparation, we provide low to moderate income households with access to asset building and income support resources such as public benefits, low or no cost bank accounts, and financial education. We also ensure eligible taxpayers claim income boosts such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS) is powered by incredible volunteers, who serve as tax law instructors, software instructors, site coordinators, outreach ambassadors, tax preparers, greeters, translators. Support our work and join the local tax volunteer movement!
A video about a local county’s VITA program