Tax Time: Keeping Your Full Refund

Written by United Way

January 3, 2019

Even if you don’t own a calendar, you know when it’s tax season. From the do-it-yourself tax filing software commercials on television, to the sign-flipping mascots on street corners promoting seasonal pop-up shops. The “it’s tax time!” catchphrase echoes across the country like a song you don’t want to hear, but can’t get out of your head.

Last year, I showed up at one of those tax pop-up shops a few blocks from my home. It was a bitter-cold winter morning. I had my financial records in hand, ready to get it over and done with…until next season.

I’ve always been an organized person. My lifetime of service in the military impressed that upon me, and I’ve applied that discipline to everything I do — including when it comes time to file my tax returns. The way I figured it, if I made it easier for them to prepare my returns, it would take less time to process, cost me less in fees, and provide me with a larger, much-needed refund in the end.

The tax preparer immediately complimented my organization and made quick work out of preparing my return. I was thrilled when he told me the total amount of my refund. Ever since I retired, and as I continue to age, my prescription costs have taken bigger chunks out of my fixed income.

“With my paychecks, every single dollar matters”

My elation about my refund was short-lived, though. The tax preparer made one last calculation on his computer and turned the monitor to face me. My stomach immediately dropped. After their tax preparation “fees”, I would receive a refund check about half the previous amount.

“I…I don’t know if I can pay that,” I said, as I stumbled over my words in disbelief.

He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Unfortunately, that’s the fine.”

I spent the rest of the year pinching every last penny, knowing any unexpected expense could financially ruin me.

A year has passed and it’s here again, that old worn-out song. “It’s tax time!” shouts the sign-wielding mascot in front of the strip mall. I spent a lot of time researching different solutions after my previous experience.

I was lucky enough to get through last year unscathed, but my doctor added a new, expensive blood pressure prescription to my daily regime. I’ll need every cent I can squeeze out of this year’s refund to make ends meet.

I looked into the do-it-yourself tax software, but I just don’t trust myself to possibly make a costly mistake. I have a neighbor who told me his uncle would prepare my returns for a hundred bucks, but I trust that even less. It was looking more and more like I was going to have to bite the bullet and head down to the strip mall pop-up shop once again.

“Then I saw an advertisement for ‘Free Tax Prep’, a program I’d never heard of before”

I’m skeptical of anything “free,” but I picked up the phone and dialed 2-1-1, like the ad said.

They were quick to calm my suspicions. They told me free truly meant free. The individual who will prepare my taxes would do so at no cost? I couldn’t believe it.

Today, I passed that same pop-up tax shop on the bus, with all my organized files in hand. I was heading to get my taxes prepared for at no cost, and that was such a weight lifted off my shoulders. After, I’d have to go pick up my medicine and felt reassurance that, this year, I’d be able to get my prescriptions filled until my next tax return.


*This blog post is based on a true story / success narrative from Free Tax Preparation. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s successes and struggles.

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