One big reason people don’t file tax returns is that taxes are hard.
“It’s entirely too complicated, it’s entirely too difficult, and there’s a lot of fear around, you know, getting it wrong,” said Teri Olle, California campaign director for Economic Security Project Action, an advocacy organization. “We, as a country and as a state, do not make it automatic in the way that a lot of other countries do,” she said.
But there is a network of over 100 sites across California that offer free tax prep. The help is provided by trained volunteers and the program is funded in part by the IRS. It’s generally for people making $60,000 or less, people with limited English, and folks with disabilities; California has a lookup tool for finding a site near you, and many sites offer multiple languages.
Anna Perez manages United Way of Kern County’s free tax prep program, which typically operates at 10 sites across the county during tax season. People who visit a site, Perez says, will generally get checked in, chat with a volunteer who will ask them questions about their situation and collect their paperwork, and then that information will get passed on to another volunteer who is certified to prepare their tax return. Then the return will get double-checked by yet another volunteer, reviewed by the client who came in, and then a return will get filed — all for free. The whole process typically takes 45 minutes to an hour, Perez says.
“The bottom line is, a lot of Californians qualify for tax credits,” said Hasselblad, “and none of them should have to pay a tax preparer to get those credits.”