WALLA WALLA - Mid-April might strike you as being Christmastime for the Internal Revenue Service, but for many lower-income workers, the agency is the one wearing the Santa hat.
While the federal government is quite willing to wrap up significant checks for millions of taxpayers via the Earned Income Tax Credit, it will do so only if you ask on your tax return.
While the idea of leaving money on the table might baffle you, many taxpayers do just that. About one in five eligible workers fails to ask for the credit, the IRS says.
Extrapolating from nationwide figures, that money on the table stacks up to about $2.3 million that could be shared by more than 1,000 workers in Walla Walla County.
"Every year there is money available to working families and individuals that does not get claimed," Gov. Chris Gregoire said recently in a prepared statement. "File your 2011 tax return and take advantage of this tax credit, which puts money in your pocket and into our local our economy."
There's no great magic trick to claiming the credit, but workers must file a tax return to access the cash. For taxpayers who owe no tax, the credit might be easy to overlook, but it is one of the few "refundable" credits, which means you can get a refund without first having to owe the government money.
If the idea of filling out the forms or paying someone to do so is an obstacle, a local official points to the availability of free tax preparation services offered by AARP through the Blue Mountain Action Council.
Steve Dickerson of the Walla Walla Asset Building Coalition says figures provided by the U.S. Commerce Department show 4,265 taxpayers claimed $9,115,980 in Walla Walla County for the 2010 tax year.
Across the country, about 26 million workers claimed $58.4 billion; the state as a whole enjoyed an $842.3 million benefit for more than 421,000 workers.
The cutoff income level for benefits is about $49,000 for a married couple with three children filing jointly, and the ceilings drop down to $13,660 for a single taxpayer with no children.
Likewise, the maximum credit, $5,751, isn't attained by every taxpayer.
The IRS says the average credit for taxpayers in the 2010 tax year was $2,200.
The agency launched an awareness campaign in January, in part because people who didn't qualify last year may incorrectly assume they still don't.
"The EITC provides a financial boost for millions of hard-working Americans. But people can easily overlook this important credit, especially if their financial situation has changed. The IRS reminds taxpayers to look into this valuable credit to see if they qualify," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.
An easy way to find out if you qualify is to visit the IRS website and use its EITC Assistant app to scope out the situation. The bilingual app can be reached at ubne.ws/xTkIh0.
Alasdair Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8311.