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Filers overlook earned income tax credit

| Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009

Taxpayers earning less than $42,000 a year, listen up: You may be eligible for an earned income tax credit.

There's more to the criteria than income, of course: the credit -- which tops out at $4,824 this year -- is geared for filers who live in rural areas, are self-employed, older, or disabled. But tax filers can take an anonymous survey online and in about two minutes learn if they qualify.

"We don't know why the 20-25 percent of people who are eligible don't file," said David D. Stewart, an IRS spokesman. "Some people probably think that they make too much money. But if you're not sure, you should check it out. You only have to answer a few questions."

Taxpayers can find the EITC Assistant in the lower right corner of the home page at www.irs.gov . Live assistance is available toll-free by phone between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday through Friday at 1-800-829-1040.

Stewart said he knows a couple with two children who earned $23,000 together in 2008. They were eligible for the full credit.

"That's 20 percent of their entire income," he said. "That's really huge."

In addition, Stewart said taxpayers earning less than $56,000 annually find links to free tax-filing software at the IRS Web site.

Federal tax questions of all kinds can be answered in person at the IRS office at 1000 Liberty Ave., Downtown from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays except on federal holidays. The office was open yesterday and will be again on Saturday, Feb. 21, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Such facetime can pay off. At the Downtown office yesterday, Kiyama Robinson said she happened to mention to an IRS staffer that her adult son had moved back in with her last year and earned less than $3,500 in 2008. She said she learned that she could claim him as a dependent.

"That wasn't clear," said Robinson, 54, of Penn Hills. "It's imperative that you ask."

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