BROWNSVILLE — With another tax season upon us, United Way of Southern Cameron County wants residents to be aware that they may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, an often-overlooked tax benefit worth up to $6,431 this year.

Tax filers who earned less than $54,000 a year from wages, self employment or farming in 2018 can get free help preparing their electronic tax returns, and in the process find out whether they’re eligible for the EITC and other credits.

UWSCC is the lead agency in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition of more than 300 certified volunteers. VITA has 20 locations throughout Cameron County, including 11 sites in Brownsville, two in Harlingen, two in Port Isabel, and one each in La Feria, Los Fresnos and San Benito. Willacy County has two VITA sites, in Lyford and Raymondville.

Call 211 for a complete list of VITA locations near you. If you need help filing electronically but made more than $54,000 in 2018, you can still take advantage of free self-preparation software available through MyFreeTaxes.com, as long as you made under $66,000 in 2018. April 15 is the deadline for filing personal income tax returns.

The EITC, which reduces taxes for filers earning low to moderate wages, is often overlooked by taxpayers who are unaware of the benefit. The IRS estimates that one out of five EITC-eligible taxpayers fail to claim the credit each year. Many people will qualify for the EITC for the first time this year due to changes in income, marital status or parental status, according to the IRS.

In 2016, the EITC helped an estimated 5.8 million U.S. residents climb out of poverty, more than half of them children, according to the government. Last year, VITA volunteers helped filers get back more than $4.9 million in EITC benefits, according to UWSCC.

Filers should also take advantage of the Child Tax Credit when possible, according to UWSCC. The CTC is available to filers who earned more than $2,500 in 2018 with a qualifying child under the age of 17.

“The EITC and the CTC can make a real difference for workers who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Keren Arista, UWSCC’s financial stability coordinator.

When getting assistance with tax preparation it’s important to bring these items: a copy of last year’s tax return, Social Security Cards, Social Security Number verification letters or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number letters for all members of the family born before Jan. 1, 2019. Original documents rather than copies are required to receive help at VITA sites.

It’s also necessary to bring all income documentation, including a valid photo ID, W-2 forms for all jobs worked and all 1099 forms for other income received; gambling winnings, prizes, awards and scholarships; total income of anyone to be claimed as a dependent (including W-2 forms for dependents, if received). Filers should also bring their bank account and routing numbers to set up direct deposit for refunds.

Also, it’s important to bring health insurance documentation: Form 1095-A if you or someone on your return received health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov). If you or someone on your tax return got coverage from another source, bring Form 1095-B or 1095-C. If you do not receive the form, bring a list of who on your tax return had health insurance coverage during the tax year, and which months they were covered.

Don’t forget expense documentation, if applicable, including college tuition statements (Form 1098-T), student loan interest statements and child-care expenses, including the provider’s address and federal tax identification number.

Filers should also bring their Identity Theft Protection Personal Identification Number (PIN) if provided by the IRS. Both spouses must be present to sign the required forms for Married Filing Jointly returns. VITA sites do not prepare Married Filing Separately returns. Also, VITA sites located at high schools do not prepare self-employment (1099-MISC) returns.

Arista said UWSCC has managed to increase the number of VITA volunteers and serve more clients each year since the coalition began in 2004.

“We work our hardest to get the volunteers in the door, because we really rely on the volunteers to staff it,” she said. “As a coalition we did like 4,825 tax returns last year, which was more than the previous year. There’s more demand than we can supply. We always have more people trying to get in, especially early.”