Unlock Your Earned Refund: How United Way’s Free Tax Prep Program Puts Money Back into Your Pocket

As Director of Moving to Financial Stability at United Way, Alena Anderson invests in partner agencies that help people earn a living wage and develop the tools they need to build wealth and fulfill their full potential. As a single mother, she understands the work that goes into making ends meet. Here she talks about United Way’s Free Tax Prep program, which helps households earning $65,000 or less maximize their refunds, and how she hopes families will use the program to keep what they’ve earned.   


Q: Can you tell us about your experience navigating the financial challenges of being a working mom while also raising two daughters? 

A: Oh, absolutely! Being a mom to two teenage girls definitely comes with its own set of hurdles, especially when it comes to managing the ever-changing needs (and expenses) of each season. From back-to-school supplies in the fall to the scramble for affordable summer activities, it seems like there’s always something demanding attention and money. And let’s not forget the stress of tax season on top of it all!  

Q: How did you handle the stress of tax season while raising your daughters? 

A: Tax season was always a particularly stressful time for me as a working mom. Filing taxes can be a headache, and when you’re anxiously awaiting a refund that might not be as much as you hoped, it adds an extra layer of worry. Plus, paying for tax preparation services can be costly. I remember feeling stuck, trying to find quick refunds to cover my family’s immediate needs while grappling with those extremely high fees.  

Q: Did you ultimately conquer that tax season stress?  

A: Well, the good news is that, while I felt stuck then, you don’t have to be now! United Way’s Free Tax Prep volunteers are IRS-trained and here for you. They genuinely want to help you get the refund you’ve earned and deserve, and they do it all for free! Last tax season, our 280 Free Tax Prep volunteers at 20 locations prepared nearly 8,000 returns, saved working families more than $2 million in tax prep fees, and generated $10.6 million in refunds. 

Q: Can you share about the impact of the Child Tax Credit and the recent expansion? 

A: Absolutely. The Child Tax Credit is a game-changer, offering much-needed financial support, especially when it comes to covering the high costs of child care and all the expenses that come with it. And with the recent bipartisan expansion passed by the House, the potential benefits are enormous – lifting millions of children out of poverty and providing aid to those in low-income families. 

A lot of families out there don’t even know this expansion is a thing. But our team of Free Tax Prep volunteers are on it! They’re ready to help working parents avoid leaving their deserved refund money on the table.  

Q: Are there other additional tax credits that families may be surprised to learn they qualify for? 

A: There are! Families who qualify for the Child Tax Credit may also be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a benefit for working people with low to moderate income. Taxpayers who qualify for and claim this credit could pay less federal tax, pay no tax or even get a tax refund ranging from $600 to more than $7,000.  

Q: That’s incredible! So, how do working families sign up for these free tax services? 

A: Free tax preparation services are available now through April 15, 2024, by visiting www.pa211.org/vita or dialing 2-1-1.  Appointments fill quickly so reach out ASAP so you can get scheduled. 

Q: Any last words of advice? 

A: My advice? Take advantage of the resources available to you, like United Way’s Free Tax Prep program. Don’t leave money on the table – those tax credits can make a real difference in your family’s financial stability. And remember, you’re not alone – reach out for help if you need it! The PA 211 helpline connects families to all kinds of resources, from food assistance to rent and utilities to job and career training. Families need all of those resources to thrive. Together, we can make tax season a little less daunting and a lot more manageable.