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Washtenaw United: Free tax services available for qualified Washtenaw County residents before April 15th deadline

Megan Thibos, Director of Community Impact Innovation at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan
United Way for Southeastern Michigan
Megan Thibos, Director of Community Impact Innovation at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan


Megan Thibos is Director of Community Impact Innovation at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, where she leads the strategic vision to increase economic mobility and equity in the Detroit metro region. Megan is an innovator who loves to dream big while also getting things done. In her five years at United Way, she has launched more than a dozen pilot programs, partnerships, and other initiatives to create sustainable pathways to economic prosperity for those who lack such access. In 2022, she was recognized by Crain’s Detroit as a Notable Women in Nonprofit honoree. Previously, Megan has served in the Mayor’s Office at the City of Detroit, in the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and at nonprofits serving low-income populations. Megan holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School where she focused on the economic and social forces that perpetuate poverty.


United Way for Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're just a week away from the tax deadline. April 15th is rapidly approaching. A lot of you have already filed. Some will be doing it this week. Others will seek an extension. Unfortunately, there are people in our community in which the stress level is even higher because they can't afford to have their tax forms properly filled out. I'm David Fair, and on Washtenaw United this week, we're going to find out how qualified residents can get free professional tax services. The United Way for Southeastern Michigan offers the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. It is also referred to by its acronym, which is VITA. It's a program that has made a big difference for a good number of people over the years. Megan Thibos is the United Way's Director of Community Impact Innovation and our guest on Washtenaw United. Thanks for making time for us today, Megan. I appreciate it.

Megan Thibos: Thanks so much. Happy to be here.

David Fair: I have to make an honest admission. I'm a procrastinator. I just got my taxes done last week. Almost every year, I'm into April before I file. My impression is you are far more organized and prompt than I am. Have you filed yet?

Megan Thibos: I have. I did that a couple of weeks ago. But, you know, better late than never.

David Fair: Well, what I've learned in my years of studying and covering issues of equity in our community is that there are a number of people who choose not to file each year because lack of financial resources to pay a professional to do it right. What have you learned through your involvement with the VITA program?

Megan Thibos: Yeah. I mean, that's one reason, David. But another reason is that folks may not realize that there's a benefit to filing. So, for individuals who maybe didn't work a whole lot last year or maybe worked on again/off again, maybe had a couple of different part-time jobs and their overall income doesn't require them to file taxes can still benefit from filing taxes. And so, that's really a large part of what we're doing here. It's trying to make sure that every single family in the entire southeastern Michigan area, and especially in Washtenaw County, gets the benefits that they deserve by filing taxes.

David Fair: So then, it becomes a kind of a lose-lose situation, right? They lose out on the potential deductions, credits and refunds that could benefit them personally. And as a whole, the community loses out on potentially the services that taxes pay for. So, money and finances are very personal and private matters for most people. What has the VITA program found to be the biggest factor for not filing by those who are actually utilizing the service?

Megan Thibos: Well, so for those who are using the service, right, they've made the decision to come on in and are usually very happy. Because we have IRS-certified nonprofit tax experts who are experts in helping lower income residents file their taxes and claim those dollars that they deserve. And folks are often surprised at just how much money they might be entitled to. So, between the earned income tax credit, which provides additional money for lower income workers. And then, there's the Michigan Earned Income Tax credit, which, by the way, is increased this year by five times, so there's a lot more money on the table, which also adds to the financial resources for lower income workers. And then, we've got the child tax credit, which is available to individuals with children. You do have to work a little bit. You need to have earned at least $2,500 last year. So, if you've earned at least $2,500 last year and you have one or more children living in your home, chances are there is money that you have earned that is yours that you just need to claim by filing taxes. And so, folks are often really pleasantly surprised, when they come on in and get their taxes done by our VITA partners. They're excited about what they could do with that extra money because, again, that money you can use to, for anything, whatever your family needs most: you can use it to pay rent, you can pay off debt, you can use it to fix a car that might be on the fritz, you can use it for any kind of supplies that that children might need. Whatever your family needs most, that money is yours to claim, yours to use for your family. And you just need to file the taxes in order to claim it. And then, for folks who haven't made the decision to file taxes, usually, it's just not realizing that they might be eligible or not realizing that help is available. And, again, that is no-cost, expert, IRS-certified tax preparation assistance that we're offering.

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU. We're talking free tax service for qualified Washtenaw County residents with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's Megan Thibos. So, who exactly does qualify for the program?

Megan Thibos: That's a great question. It's anyone making less than $64,000 in 2023. So, that could be a married couple, as long as their joint income is less than 64,000 or a single individual or if you've got a domestic partnership and unmarried--it's just that individual income. Anyone making less than $64,000 last year, in 2023, qualifies for tax preparation assistance through our program. You can call 211 to make an appointment. We offer appointments Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays at our office on Platt Road. And the folks at 211 will be happy to help you schedule a time that is convenient for you.

David Fair: Let's talk about impact. Have those who have been working in VITA over the years been able to put a dollar amount on how much residents in our region have benefited simply by choosing to participate in the program?

Megan Thibos: Sure. Across the region, we've helped folks claim well more than $20 million a year in tax refunds. So, there's a huge impact both for a family's bottom line. The individual benefit for families, typically, is around $1,500 per person or per family to file can range as much as 10,000. The earned income tax credit, the amount that you receive, and the income guidelines to receive it depend on the exact number of children in your household. You do not need children to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, although it does increase the amount that you're eligible for. And so, that can be worth up to almost $10,000 for families with three or more children. And then, the child tax credit is worth somewhere between $1500 and $2000 per child. And that's available to anyone who has a child or one or more children who are less than age 17, living in the home. The adult needs to have made at least $2,500--so, pretty low threshold for how much they need to have earned in earned income last year to qualify. And I really want to underscore that the children do not need to be biological children. So, that's a group of folks that often miss out because they don't realize they're eligible. So, we know we have a lot of grandparents or aunts and uncles who might be--or even older siblings who might be raising younger siblings--raising children in their home that are not their own biological child. And those children still qualify.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU. We're getting a lot of great tax information as we talk with the United Way of Southeastern Michigan's Megan Thibos on Washtenaw United. And, Megan, I want to talk about the VITA program from a little bit different angle. We continue to explore and discuss disparities in social, financial and racial equity and many of our conversations on WEMU. How does the VITA program touch these issues that extend beyond getting qualified tax refunds?

Megan Thibos: Sure. I mean, obviously, there are huge racial disparities in income in our society. Also, families with limited English or limited education are more likely to miss out. So, these tax benefit programs--because that's really what they are--they're cash benefits that are provided through the tax system and through the act of filing taxes. They help individuals of lower income have more resources available to pay for things that families need most. And so, these programs do disproportionately benefit those racial minorities and those families with lower education and limited English, because those are the families that are disproportionately lower income in our society. So, these programs are deliberately designed to help provide additional resources to families who need it most.

David Fair: Well, once again, the tax deadline is April 15th. And if I've understood correctly, the VITA program will shut down for the year after that. So, Megan, for those in need and who have yet to file once again, how do they best access this volunteer-driven program?

Megan Thibos: Yes. Call 211 today to make an appointment. There's also more information available on our website about everything I've talked about today. There is child tax credit information on what you need to file. In order to file, you will need to have a photo ID, as well as a Social Security card or an individual taxpayer identification card. And so, all that information is available on our website at getthetaxback.org. And then, call 211 to make an appointment. And we'd be delighted to help the listeners claim those dollars that they are entitled to. And please tell a friend or family member who can benefit.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for taking the time and giving us such detailed information today, Megan. I appreciate it.

Megan Thibos: Absolutely! Happy to be here! Thanks so much!

David Fair: That is Megan Thibos. She serves as director of Community Impact Innovation for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. And to help provide information on how qualified residents may get free and professional tax preparation services, again, the tax deadline is April 15th, if you're in need, call 211 and make your appointment or you can just head over to our website at wemu.org and click on today's Washtenaw United post. We'll have all the links you need to get connected with the VITA program. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


With the merger of United Way of Washtenaw County and United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Washtenaw County residents will continue to receive expert, IRS-certified tax preparation assistance at no cost to them.

Before scheduling an appointment, interested participants can read over Frequently Asked Tax Questions and How to File on United Way’s website.

If you reside in Washtenaw County and your total income is less than $64,000, you likely have one or more cash benefits waiting and are eligible for no-cost tax prep services.

This service takes place at United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Ann Arbor office located on 2305 Platt Rd. The tax filing deadline is April 15, and in Washtenaw County, tax preparation services will close on April 15.

If you haven’t filed taxes yet, call 2-1-1 today to make an appointment!     

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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