FORT WORTH — More than 5,081 tax returns yielding $9.93 million in refunds were filed this year with the help of United Way volunteers, the organization says.The United Way of Tarrant County helped families and taxpayers file their paperwork during the 2014 tax season at more than a dozen Volunteer Income Tax Assistance centers countywide. “It’s a great way to help families,” said Sue Matkin, vice president of community development for United Way of Tarrant County.Matkin said many families spend $300 to $350 to get a simple tax return filled out. Often, they don’t tap into available tax credits.The tax help is one way to help struggling or working-class families find financial stability, she said.Of the 2014 tax refunds, $4.08 million came from earned income tax credits — up 21 percent from the $3.37 million in such claims filed at the centers last year. The credit is a benefit for working people whose incomes are low to moderate, according to the Internal Revenue Service.Among the people who filed for the credit, 960 were new this year, according to United Way.The refund total this year is up from 2013, when the organization helped local taxpayers get $8.7 million. The free tax help centers are part of the United Way’s Earn Well financial stability initiative. United Way partnered with Catholic Charities Fort Worth, the city of Arlington and Foundation Communities to operate the centers from January through mid-April.More than 200 volunteers contributed more than 5,100 hours, Matkin said. The United Way’s 211 information and referral service answered more than 6,300 calls from people with questions about income tax help.Jennifer Gross, 29, is a graduate accounting student at the University of Texas at Arlington. She used her skills to help families who say they dread filling out the forms or don’t understand how.“It’s intimidating,” Gross said. “Nothing is written in plain English. You have to figure stuff out and it comes with a gigantic book.”Gross helped families every Saturday in Grapevine during the tax season. “I wanted to do something to get involved in the community,” she said.This year, 316 people agreed to either to put part of their refunds in a savings account or to buy a savings bond. The tax help often opens a path to other forms of aid and resources available to help families’ economies. They are often referred to skills-based job training and adult education programs, Matkin said.“We will help connect them to other services,” she said.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1