Neighborhood Tax Centers, Inc.
What kind of work does Neighborhood Tax Centers do for your community?
Neighborhood Tax Centers provides absolutely free tax preparation services for the hard-working people of the Greater Houston Area. We prepare the current year return, prior year returns (for up to 5 years), tax return amendments (including returns prepared by other providers), and guidance with IRS letters. We also offer ITIN assistance for taxpayers who do not have social security numbers. All of our services are always absolutely free. Our only service qualifier is income: we serve families who earn up to $50,000 or single individuals who earn up to $30,000. We have the flexibility to take special circumstances into consideration such as larger families, divorce, or unemployment. Fifty percent of Houstonians earn $50,000 or less, so many people can benefit from free tax preparation with Houston’s leading free tax preparer. Even if someone can’t utilize our service, they certainly know someone who can.
We are able to provide our services thanks to the generosity of funders such as United Way of Greater Houston THRIVE, Houston Endowment, and the IRS. We are a VITA program which means all of our tax preparers are IRS certified volunteers. In the 2012 tax season, 585 volunteers generously donated over 23,000 hours of service time to serve Houstonians.
During the tax season, we have 15 locations throughout the Greater Houston area to conveniently serve our clients. No appointments are necessary and you do not have to live within specific zip codes to receive service. Clients are able to go to the location closest to their home or work. We also have a site located in Southwest Houston that is open year-round and is easily accessible off of one of our main highways.
What were the results of your 2012 tax season?
In the 2012 tax season we prepared 28,735 tax returns, which resulted in over $41 million in refunds being returned to the clients we served. From those tax returns, we served 52,627 men, women, and children in just 13 weeks! Our goal for the entire year was 31,000 and as of October 1st we’ve exceeded that goal and are still going strong. Our average net refund was $1,800 with single parents averaging $3,202 – this amount is two month’s salary based on their AGI. The amount of Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) claimed during the tax season was $16,259,265, which represents a 16% increase from the previous tax season for us. This support means more financial support for children and working families.
What has been the biggest challenge for your program?
Although the number of clients we serve each year has grown, we are continually challenged by how to increase our outreach efforts with limited marketing funds. We are designed to serve working families who can most benefit from our service and yet they still comprise only 27% of our client base. We have found through our standardized client surveys that our most effective advertising has been through word-of-mouth marketing. We have numerous community partners who help us promote our services within their own programs and we take advantage of all the free media access we can. We recognize that clients will utilize our service when they are referred through an established, trusted relationship so we strive to form as many collaborations as we can. This year we are targeting municipal entities to assist our outreach efforts.
Tied into our marketing challenge is overcoming the public’s skepticism of the word “free.” People are distrustful of anyone who claims to offer something at no cost, as they think that there has to be a catch or surprise charges. People cannot believe that our service is ALWAYS absolutely free. The word “free” can also indicate low-quality service. However, we emphasize that all of our tax preparers are IRS certified at the Intermediate level, we conduct quality reviews of every return immediately after they are prepared, and we are open year-round so that clients can always come to us if they have an issue with their return. Quality customer service is our principal goal, but it’s a challenging message to deliver when promoting services at no cost.
What are you looking forward to the most for the 2013 tax season?
We are expanding a special savings program that was successfully piloted in 2012 tax season. Thanks to United Way of Houston THRIVE and Promise Credit Union, another Neighborhood Centers program, the Tax Time Matched Savings Accounts enabled 230 clients to commit to save $88,458, which will be matched at 50% on January 15, 2013. The program works very simply. At the time clients are having their tax return prepared, they can commit to save up to $1,000 in an account at Promise Credit Union. That money is theirs and is maintained in a regular savings account. On January 15, 2014, clients will receive a free 25% match on the lowest balance of the original deposit. That means that if $1,000 is maintained until the following January, $250 will be deposited in their account for free. The Matched Savings Accounts were designed to encourage savings, which helps people in establishing greater financial stability. The amount of the match changed from the piloted program, as we are offering the savings program at all 15 of our Tax Centers instead of just the 2 in last year’s pilot program. Our goal is to open at least 500 accounts this tax season to help our clients in building assets.
How long has Neighborhood Tax Centers been serving the Houston community?
The 2013 tax season will be Neighborhood Tax Centers’ fifth tax season. Since 2009, we have prepared over 100,000 tax returns that have returned over $132 million in refunds to our clients and subsequently to the local economy. We have been able to increase the number of people we serve each tax season by at least 11%.
Neighborhood Tax Centers is a program of Neighborhood Centers, Inc., which has been serving the Greater Houston community for 105 years. We are Houston’s oldest and one of the largest nonprofits in our community. Neighborhood Centers is working to build vibrant communities FOR GOOD in the Houston area. Overall, our agency will have served more 340,000 people in 2012.
What is the best part of your program?
Everyone affiliated with our program has a different idea about which component is best, but it all boils down to helping hard-working families keep more of their earned money in their pockets. Witnessing dedicated volunteers give their time and themselves to helping their community is truly inspiring. Their dedication to this sometimes challenging responsibility sustains our staff and helps us to continue to grow the program even more substantially each year. We want to give everyone we can in the Greater Houston area the opportunity to take advantage of our program; we nurture our volunteers to keep returning so that we can do that for our clients. We know that our business model works and as long as we continue to build on our best practices, we will have the growth we seek to accomplish our goals.