Spending tax refunds, many have few options

Updated: Apr. 10, 2018 at 12:54 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A 2017 survey of Louisville taxpayers by the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) showed low and moderate income families were more likely to be worried about saving money for an emergency than they were about losing a job.

Tax preparers says 2018 seems to be a continuation of a trend.

"The main trends I guess we see are in what our clients want to do with their refunds," Brittany Sims, program director for the non-profit Louisville Asset Building Coalition, said. "Most of our clients are using their refunds to pay off bills, pay down debt."

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VITA site coordinator Lavada Johnson said clients generally have two common questions: "When do I have to pay and when do I get my check back?"

A 2017 VITA demographic survey of Louisville clients asked how they expected to use their refund. Almost three out of four said they planned to either catch up on bills or pay down debt.

Just 30 percent of the taxpayers with a refund said they planned to spend it. Most planned to fix or buy a car, or pay for home repairs or improvements. Only a tiny fraction said they would take a family vacation.

VITA client Jesse Mickens said he hoped his refund would allow him to both pay some bills and take his family on a vacation.

"If not," Mickens said, "I'll pray about it but I got something I'm smiling for."

Savings seemed to be the biggest difficulty of 2017 respondents. Thirteen percent said they needed the refund for a safety net. A little over six percent said they were trying to save for college.

"I want to start early so I don't have to worry about it," taxpayer Patricia Hunt said. She brought her infant baby with her as she sought tax assistance.

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VITA services in Louisville are expecting to prepare the returns for about 9,000 people this year.

In 2017, most clients represented families of two to four people.

The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) is providing help at the Louisville Urban League even past the filing deadline. For the days and hours they are offering free tax prep, click or tap here.

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