Orange Mound

SaveFirst aims to reduce predatory tax preparation in Memphis

Impact America, a Birmingham, Ala.-based nonprofit, will offer free tax preparation services to working-class families in Memphis. 

“This program is important because it’s providing a service for some of the most vulnerable families in Memphis. Tax prep can be incredibly predatory. A low-income family could be charged about $400 for something that may only take 30 minutes,” said Kyra Hanlon, Tennessee co-director for Impact America. “In some cases that could be up to two percent of a family’s income.”

Through SaveFirst, a program focused on reducing the amount of predatory tax preparation, anyone that makes less than $54,000 annually can receive free, IRS certified tax preparation services. As of 2016, the median household income in Memphis is approximately $37,000.

Impact America plans to serve 1,200 people in Memphis this tax season beginning January 16, 2018 with volunteers from Rhodes College, University of Memphis and St. Mary’s Episcopal School. All volunteers must pass the IRS exam and Impact America AmeriCorps members receive more than 100 hours of tax preparation training.

There will be a total of seven free tax prep-sites throughout Memphis in 2018 courtesy of Impact America:

    • Orange Mound Community Service Center (2572 Park Avenue, Memphis, TN 38114)
    • Binghampton Development Corporation (280 Tillman Street, Memphis, TN 38112)
    • Soulsville Towne Center (915 E. McLemore Avenue, Memphis, TN 38106)
    • Ed Rice Community Center (Frayser) (2907 N Watkins Street, Memphis, TN 38127)
    • Church Health (1350 Concourse Avenue, Memphis, TN 38104)
    • Social Suds (1048 S. Bellevue Boulevard, Memphis, TN 38106)
    • Latino Memphis (Apple Tree Center, 6041 Mt. Moriah Road, Memphis, TN 38115)

This the third year of the SaveFirst initiative in Memphis. Last year, AmeriCorps members prepared tax returns for more than 1,100 families at four free tax sites, helping families receive more than $1.7 million in tax refunds and saving them over $440,000 in commercial tax preparation fees.

JUICE Orange Mound is partnering with Impact America to bring the SaveFirst free tax preparation program to Orange Mound in 2018. There was a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in the community in the early 2000s but it left due to lack of volunteers.

Britney Thornton, executive director of JUICE, said when the previous VITA program was in Orange Mound years ago, more than 600 people took advantage of the services.

In 2017 SaveFirst helped families save $4.6 million in tax preparation fees in four states—Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida. In Memphis, families saved $440,000 in tax prep fees through the program.

Hanlon said often times tax checks may be the biggest check a family receives all year and the surplus money goes towards everything from fixing the family car and stocking up on extra food to buying school uniforms and getting caught up on bills.

“Predatory tax preparation is horrendous. We’re providing a high-quality service for free with no catches and no gimmicks to make sure families get every penny they deserve,” Hanlon said.

On December 20, the House of Representatives gave final approval for a GOP tax bill that will reorganize the individual tax code and bring tax breaks to corporations and private businesses. 

As people wonder how this will affect their deductions and tax filings in 2019, Hanlon assured that the SaveFirst program will be around to answer questions.

“We are non-partisan. The recent developments have caused a lot of uncertainty and we want to make sure taxpayers know their rights,” she said. “Fortunately nothing has changed for the upcoming tax year but we do have a year to figure out what's best for people in the upcoming years.”

The local service is sponsored by AutoZone and a grant from the Junior League of Memphis.

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Read more articles by Erica Horton.

Born and raised in Memphis, Erica Horton is a freelance journalist that loves to learn and write about almost anything. Email her story ideas here