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 18,150 more Detroiters claim the tax credit, recouping $74 million more in tax refunds that had historically gone unclaimed—an average of $4,000 per family.

The drop-and-go service was a response to families who need one-on-one help with filing their taxes and may not have time for an in-person appointment. It also helps fill a need 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 some of the intake partners are 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.

“We’re happy to be able to offer our participants who are coming in for job or education assistance another service that helps them become financially stable,” said Lucia Seed, communications and program coordinator at SER Metro. 

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 in 2017 and process 292 tax returns at drop-and-go sites. This year, with additional funding, their goal is to process 1,000 returns across 16 sites and will be available through the first week of April.

United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline is also working to help achieve that goal, with operators expecting to connect more than 1,000 callers with tax preparation services like drop-and-go sites.

“We want to ensure that everyone receives the tax credits they are eligible for,” said Nick Piper, financial stability manager for United Way. “We hope to expand on last year’s success and help additional families keep more of what they earn.”

Click here to find all drop-and-go tax sites, or call 2-1-1.