CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even if you're not required to file a federal tax return because you didn't make enough money — do it, officials from the Internal Revenue Service are urging.
"You could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table," said Mark Hanson, the regional media relations director for the IRS.
Started in 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit is meant to help low- to moderate-income working individuals and families keep more of what they earned, according to the IRS website.
"It's essentially an anti-poverty program — a way to help hardworking people, who may not have the highest level of income, get some additional money," Hanson said.
However, it's something many aren't taking advantage of, according to Hanson. Whether it's because they don't know about it or simply overlook it, many who would qualify don't file a tax return, and that's a must in order to claim the money.
"Each year, an average of one in five eligible taxpayers fail to claim the credit," he said.
Last year, the average credit handed out was about $2,200, but the credit can provide as much as $5,900.
Around 70 percent of the population can visit freefile.irs.gov and use free software to file a federal return, Hanson said. Using that software, those who made less than $51,000 last year can easily find out if they qualify for the EITC.
There's really no reason not to find out if you're eligible, according to Hanson, because if you're 25 years of age or older, you make less than $51,000 a year free tax software is available on the IRS website to file a federal return.
Using the free computer software also takes a lot of the guesswork out of the filing process and helps avoid errors, he said.
"There's a less than one percent chance for simple error — whether it be math or forgetting to sign [the form]," Hanson said. "It's impossible to forget to sign the return digitally."
There are special rules for those without children, with a disability or who have served in the military, among others, the website states. Hanson said if you don't have access to the internet, the IRS teams up with local chapters of the United Way and with AARP to provide assistance.
"The only way to get a refund is to file a tax return and the only way to get the EITC is to file a tax return and claim it," he said. "Even apply if you took a job in December ... chances are money was still withheld from your paycheck."