Excitement is in the air at United Way of Greater Lorain County (UWGLC), and it’s easy to see why! We’re over the moon about the continued success of our Lorain County Free Tax Prep Coalition, and we’re eager to share some incredible achievements that go beyond the numbers.

A Lifeline in a World of Fees

First, let’s dive into what our Impact Initiative is all about. Through our Free Tax Prep program, we recruit and train volunteers to become IRS-certified tax preparers, and then coordinator those to volunteers prepare and file federal and state income taxes for low-to-moderate income families. We have tax sites throughout the county, at several local partners including libraries, banks, and social service agencies.

Our Free Tax Prep program is Lorain County’s local affiliate of the IRS’s federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). Through this program, we’ve been able to offer families and individuals a fantastic alternative to those expensive paid preparers out there. Think about it—when many tax preparers charge filing fees and tack on other costly services, where does a hardworking family turn? Right to us!

With 88,000 households in Lorain County eligible for VITA, it’s more than just about doing taxes. It’s about building trust and helping those who count on their tax refund to make ends meet throughout the year.
“Going into my eighth tax season, I can’t stress enough the importance of the work done by the Lorain County Free Tax Prep Coalition,” said Caitlin Smith, who oversees the program as Data and Impact Initiatives Manager for UWGLC. “Our Free Tax Prep coalition ensures hardworking families have access to high quality tax services—without the added burden of preparation fees. We specially train our team of volunteers to know which credits our clients are eligible for and how to ensure they’re claimed. It’s practical help that makes a real difference in people’s budgets and lives.”

By the Numbers: Celebrating Growth and Success

But, let’s talk figures! This past year, we saw:

• 1,737 returns accepted by the IRS, up from 1,556 the previous year.
• A whopping $1,600,230 in Federal Refunds!
• 304 returns with households receiving the significant EITC, summing up to $366,054.
• 55 Volunteer tax preparers trained, up from 37 the previous year.

Now, consider the $474,201 that taxpayers saved by using our service rather than going to a paid preparer. That’s nearly half a million dollars kept in the pockets of our community members! And this doesn’t even touch on the impressive increase in our trained tax preparers, certifications, volunteers, and hours dedicated to this cause.

“It’s amazing to see our diverse group of volunteers come together every year for a common cause—from working professionals with no prior tax experience, to retired CPAs, to current college students. Their dedication is inspiring. They put in the hours, learn the new tax updates, and help local families keep more of their hard-earned money. And we have fun doing it,” said Smith.

A Link to the Bigger Picture

Our Impact Initiative’s work dovetails perfectly with the broader narrative of tax credits in America. As highlighted in our recent blog post, “Tax Credits: An Investment in Working Families and the Nation’s Future,” these credits, particularly the EITC and CTC, are invaluable lifelines to working families.
The significant reduction in child poverty due to the EITC and CTC isn’t just a statistic—it’s a living testament of hope. And through programs like ours, we amplify the power of these credits by ensuring families have the tools and resources to access them.

Our program and these tax credits share a common goal: making sure hardworking families are supported, uplifted, and have every opportunity to build a brighter future. The ripple effect? Kids do better in school, households become financially stable, and the whole community thrives.

Looking Ahead: Bright Skies and Even Brighter Futures

So, what’s next for the Lorain County Free Tax Prep? Simply put: more growth, more families reached, and more success stories. The progress we’ve made fuels our passion, and we’re gearing up to make an even more significant impact in the coming years.

To every volunteer, every family, and every individual who’s been a part of this journey, a heartfelt thank you. Your trust and dedication are building not just a program but a movement—a movement towards a financially secure and hopeful Lorain County.

“Our Free Tax Prep program does incredible work and reaches nearly 2,000 households in need each year—but there’s so much more we could do. With more volunteers and community support, we could add capacity to our existing sites and add more sites throughout the county. Additionally, the current tax system is disadvantageous to many of the clients we see, and we plan to increase our public policy advocacy to create more benefits for families working their hardest but still struggling with poverty,” said Smith.

Those interested in learning more about the Free Tax Prep coalition can email caitlin.smith@uwloraincounty.org

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