What would you do with an extra $2,250 in the bank? Put a down payment on a car? Take a vacation? Squirrel it away to pay for college? Just, have it?
You could be doing any of those already — at least if you are one of the over 200,000 Philadelphians who qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal rebate program that puts money in the pockets — an average of $2,250 annually per recipient — of working Americans when they file their federal income taxes. You could also receive an additional $2,000 back if you have one or more children under age 17, via the Child Tax Credit (CTC).
The EITC is part of a 39-year-old program meant to give a financial break to low- to modest-income U.S. residents. The IRS bases the amount you receive on your income, marital status, and number of dependents. Here’s a detailed view of EITC eligibility here, including how much cash you’re due back within a range of $600 to $7,430.
Established in 1997, the federal Child Tax Credit allows parents and legal guardians who earn up to $200,000 annually if filing singly, and up to $400,000 annually if filing jointly, to receive up to $2,000 per child.
According to the City of Philadelphia, nearly 40,000 of us miss out on claiming their EITC and CTC refunds every year — leaving about $100 million on the table. What’s more, these credits are retroactive: You can file for EITC or CTC for up to three years after the tax year.
For a sense of what that means consider this: A single parent of two who earns $52,918 a year could get as much as $6,604 back in EITC when they file their taxes. And, if you qualified in the past three years and didn’t apply, you could potentially see a cash bump to the tune of (on average) $10,000.
How to get your Earned Income Tax Credit in Philly
Every year, the City of Philadelphia hosts its annual Claim Your Money PHL (formerly You Earned It) campaign to spread the word about EITC and CTC. The City also helps its citizens fill out the paperwork needed to get their money by the April 15 tax deadline — at no charge.
The Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity has the information you need to get started on your refund, including links to where you can get free tax help. This year, they’re directing people to the Campaign for Working Families (with multiple offices throughout and beyond Philadelphia), Cebia (at 17th and Diamond streets, with extra services for Spanish speakers), and the Chinatown Development Corporation (on N. 9th Street). There are also plenty of options to get help and file virtually.
History and impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit
The EITC feels like a throwback to a time when the federal government seemed, truly, to be looking out for working class Americans. President Ford signed it into law in 1975. President Reagan expanded in 1986, calling it “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job-creation measure to come out of Congress.”
He may have been right: Multiple studies from both sides of the aisle have shown EITC is the single best government-sponsored poverty relief program that exists.
That’s because many working Americans walk a precarious knife’s edge when it comes to financial stability. More than 75 percent say they live paycheck to paycheck, putting them one catastrophe — an illness, a broken appliance, an unexpected move — away from insurmountable debt or even poverty.
Around 78.7 million Americans work jobs that pay by the hour, with more than 1 million earning at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. A full-time minimum-wage worker earns $15,080 a year — far less than the minimum needed to qualify for EITC.
MORE FINANCIAL STORIES FROM THE CITIZENHeader photo by Alexander Mils / Unsplash