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Prepared Remarks of Commissioner John Koskinen During EITC Awareness Day

January 27, 2017 

I’m delighted to be here today in Baltimore to announce the launch of our annual outreach campaign that promotes awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Thank you to everyone participating in this event.

I also want to say a special word of thanks to everyone involved with the Baltimore CASH campaign, for partnering with the IRS and for all the great work they’re doing to help low-and moderate-income families.

For more than 40 years, the EITC has made life better for American workers and their families. It’s an extremely important anti-poverty credit that helps millions of people every year.

Last year, 27 million eligible individuals and families in the U.S. received a total of more than $67 billion by claiming the EITC – on average, more than $2,400 per household. Here in Maryland, about 412,000 families received a total of nearly $1 billion. That’s a lot of money added to your state economy, but more importantly, it’s money that goes into the hands of workers who struggle to make ends meet.

But as good as those numbers are, they could be better. Even though four out of five eligible workers and families benefit from the EITC, millions more miss out because they don’t know about it or don’t realize they’re eligible. Individuals and families often move in and out of EITC eligibility from year to year because of changes in their financial or family circumstances.

That’s why we’re here, and why local officials and community organizations across the country are joining with us today to get the word out about the EITC. In fact, we have 97 EITC Awareness Day events going on around the country this weekend alone. And another 39 events will be held during the year. We want to ensure low- and moderate-income workers get the tax credit they deserve. And this year, we are making a special effort to get this message out to a number of groups we found are at risk of missing out on the EITC – rural communities, people with disabilities, working grandparents and Native Americans.

I want to remind everyone that workers who qualify for the EITC must file federal income tax returns—even if their income is below the filing requirement — and specifically claim the EITC to get it.

There are some easy ways to make sure people get the EITC if they are entitled to it.

  • Using Free File or a software package will help you claim the credit.
  • We also encourage anyone with earnings under $54,000 a year to use our EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if they qualify.

I’d also like to take a moment to mention there is free tax preparation help available for low-income taxpayers, older Americans, people with disabilities and those with limited proficiency in English. The IRS supports more than 12,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly sites around the country. These sites are staffed by more than 90,000 volunteers, and I’m proud to say that many of them are current IRS employees and retirees.

In fact, there are a great many dedicated VITA volunteers who work right here at the Union Baptist Church and throughout Baltimore, due to the efforts of coalition partners organized through the Baltimore CASH campaign.

Since we’re talking about filing tax returns, I want to mention that IRS employees have been working for months to prepare for the tax filing season, and they will be making every effort through the April 18th filing deadline and beyond to ensure that the filing experience for all taxpayers goes as smoothly as possible.

I also want to note a very important change this year involving taxpayer returns claiming the EITC or the Additional Child Tax Credit.

In an effort to make it easier for the IRS to detect and prevent refund fraud, Congress passed a new law that requires the IRS to hold refunds claiming those credits until February 15th.  But that doesn’t mean you should wait to file until then. Taxpayers claiming the EITC or ACTC should file as soon as they have all of the necessary documentation together to prepare an accurate return. In other words, file as you normally do.

I have some very important information about when EITC and ACTC filers can expect to see their refunds. The IRS will begin releasing refunds claiming these credits the week of February 15th, but it takes time for these to work through the financial system. With weekends and Presidents’ Day, EITC and ACTC filers should not expect to have access to their refunds via their bank or financial institution before the week of February 27th.

And here’s another important point. In February, everyone loves checking our online tool, Where’s My Refund. EITC and ACTC filers should keep in mind they won’t see an arrival date for their refund until after February 15th.  So don’t panic in late January or early February if you check Where’s My Refund and you don’t see a refund date – that’s just how the tool will operate given the special circumstances with EITC and ACTC refunds. I would note that EITC and ACTC refund filers don’t need to call the IRS to check on their refund date. What you have on Where’s My Refund is the same information that our telephone assistors have.

I also want to remind everyone that the best way to speed your refund is to choose direct deposit. Having a check mailed to you will add several weeks, due to the additional paper processing involved.

I realize that many people may choose to get an advance on their refund by taking out a loan – that’s really a personal choice. But I do encourage people considering a refund loan to be careful when you do this. Make sure you take your business to a reputable firm making these loans, and avoid “fly-by-night” operations. Make sure you understand the terms of the refund loan, and watch out for places that may try charging high fees.

Finally, I want to assure everyone that the entire IRS workforce stands ready to provide as much assistance as possible to help taxpayers fulfill their obligations. And don’t forget, we also have our wonderful volunteers here in Baltimore and at VITA sites all around the country ready to help people prepare and file their taxes, if they qualify for the assistance.