February 16, 2018

Drop-and-go tax sites offer fast, free tax prep help

Tax preparation at SER Metro

The Greater Detroit Center for Working Families Financial Coach Jesica Rubio at SER Metro helps take in tax return information. SER Metro serves as one of 16 “drop and go” tax sites in Detroit.

Busy families now have another way to get free tax preparation help through the new “drop-and-go taxes” program. Qualifying individuals can get their taxes done for free—with help from an IRS-certified volunteer tax preparer.

For more than a decade, we’ve invested in tax preparation services to help people keep more of what they earn as part of our Economic Prosperity work. In 2017, we began working in partnership with Accounting Aid Society and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to offer services to help Detroiters claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Last year, this collaborative effort helped 85,000 more Detroiters claim the tax credit, recouping nearly $300 million more in tax refunds that had historically gone unclaimed—an average of $4,600 per family.

One option for free tax preparation is for families to visit a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site. Sites are run by United Way partners Accounting Aid Society and Wayne Metro Community Action Agency.

The drop-and-go service was added to offer more options in areas of Detroit where access to a traditional Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site is limited.

“The idea is to increase access to free tax preparation,” says Gabrielle Thomas, Chief Operating Officer of Accounting Aid Society. “These virtual sites are neighborhood based, and the intake partners are places where people already go for other services.”

This also means that clients can learn about other services that may help them decide how to invest their tax refund, and increase their financial stability. Staff at United Way partner SER Metro also help people receiving drop-and-go tax preparation access other services, like job and education assistance.

Tax preparation at SER Metro

Jesica Rubio of SER Metro scans tax documents using technology purchased with a grant from United Way.

Drop-and-go participants have their tax documents securely scanned and sent to Accounting Aid Society to be processed by certified tax preparers, then the completed return is sent back to the drop-and-go site about a week later for the individual to sign. 

The model is based on a similar program run by the Food Bank For New York City.

“Our goal was to build something in Detroit that was similar to the success that New York City had, but was built around how Detroit works,” Gabrielle explains, noting that transportation barriers are a huge issue for Detroiters trying to access services.

With financial support from United Way, Accounting Aid Society was able to invest in the technology and training to set up several sites. These sites process hundreds of tax returns each year and are available through the first week in April.

Click here to find all drop-and-go tax sites, or call United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline for information on this and other tax services.