- Full filing services are available now at GetYourRefund.org, and will remain available through October 1
- GetCTC, Code for America’s simplified filing service, will launch in May and remain available through the fall
- At launch, GetCTC will allow families without a tax filing obligation to claim the Child Tax Credit, and any portion of the third stimulus payment they didn’t receive
- Simplified filing works and is our best chance to reach the millions of families who are missing out on the expanded CTC this year—whether or not they received monthly payments last year
This year represents perhaps the most important tax filing season in a generation. Thanks to the historic investments of the American Rescue Plan, nearly every family in the country can claim the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC)—up to $3,600 per child, and up to $1,800 per child for families who received monthly payments last year. Adults without children are also eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit that has tripled in size, and families can claim any portion of the $1,400/person third stimulus payment they missed last year. A family with low income and two children who didn’t file last year could claim nearly $20,000 in tax benefits this year—funds they badly need to cope with rising costs and an uncertain economic environment. And yet, with the future of these expanded credits still in jeopardy, we may have only this year to demonstrate we can reach every family.
Code for America is committed to doing our part to make sure as many families as possible get this money. And we are excited to officially announce that GetCTC—our simplified filing tool that over 100,000 families used to access tax benefits last year—is coming back in May. Right now, anyone interested can sign up for updates to be notified as soon as GetCTC goes live.
Before then, we also have a suite of other tools designed to help families most in need. At GetYourRefund.org, clients can access our flagship GetYourRefund product, a virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) service that allows clients to complete a VITA intake online and get matched directly to a VITA site to file their return. Clients can also access File Myself, our implementation of VITA’s remote facilitated self-assistance, which allows clients to use commercial tax prep software, asking questions of our support staff as needed via online chat. And, GetYourRefund.org also offers an in-person VITA site locator—a mobile-friendly copy of the service available at IRS.gov—which helps those who would rather get face-to-face assistance find that help where available.
These GetYourRefund services allow families to file full tax returns to claim all tax benefits available to them, including state credits. Already, more than 25,000 families have successfully filed using our online services. These services will remain available through October (October 1 for GetYourRefund, October 15 for File Myself), although VITA volunteer capacity may become increasingly limited as the year goes on.
But we are not going to reach every family with full filing services. As we and others have said for years, based on our extensive research with families who don’t always file taxes, the barriers to filing a full tax return are high. It is hard for families to track down their W-2s and other documents they need for a full return. It can be even harder to provide the specific identity documents required for some VITA services. For families who haven’t historically interacted with the tax system, the experience can be especially daunting, despite our best efforts to make it easier.
For families who haven’t historically interacted with the tax system, the experience can be especially daunting, despite our best efforts to make it easier.
This is where simplified filing comes in. Each year since 2020, the IRS has authorized a simplified filing process, which allows families who aren’t required to file taxes—generally those who earn less than $12,500 single or $25,000 married—to claim most key tax benefits by submitting just a short return with a limited set of information (SSNs or ITINs, address, family members they support, and bank account information). The importance of simplified filing can’t be overstated: with its implementation, the families who have the greatest need for tax benefits have been able to claim them in record numbers. Simplified filing is a huge success that needs to be scaled to reach all eligible families.
GetCTC was Code for America’s human-centered implementation of the 2021 simplified filing process—and we found that it really worked. By late October 2021, about 3,000 families a day were successfully using GetCTC to file returns. Nearly four in five told us the tool was “easy” or “extremely easy” to use—including those who said they had never filed taxes in their lives. Most clients finished GetCTC on their mobile phone in about 15 minutes.
The impact this money had on people’s lives was significant—hear more from clients in their own words:
GetCTC was reauthorized in January by a new set of 2022 simplified filing rules, which go into effect in late April. As with last year, the rules make simplified filing available to families who are not required to file taxes. We are updating last year’s tool to fulfill the new rules, and expect to have GetCTC ready for the public in May.
When GetCTC goes live, it will allow clients in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. to claim all of the expanded 2021 Child Tax Credit, and any portion of the third stimulus payment (the $1,400/person payment from March 2021) that they missed out on. For a family with two young children who filed last year, this will amount to $3,600 in CTC. For a two-child family who didn’t file last year, and who missed out on the third stimulus payment and advance CTC payments, this will amount to $12,800—$7,200 in CTC and $5,600 in stimulus. Like last year, families without children can use GetCTC just to get the stimulus payment. (Note that GetCTC clients cannot claim the first two stimulus payments; these were credits for tax year 2020, and clients would have to file back taxes to claim them. We are exploring the possibility of adding this functionality to GetCTC in the future.) GetCTC will also feature a handful of small but meaningful improvements we made in the last months, based on careful study of the client experience in last year’s tool.
This year’s new simplified filing rules also take a major new step forward by permitting filers to also claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, if they are eligible. The process requires that filers have access to their W-2s in order to claim the EITC; the IRS will not figure the EITC amount on clients’ behalf. Because of the challenges around document access highlighted above, this will limit how many families can actually take advantage of this new benefit—but it is nonetheless a significant advancement for simplified filing at large. Because of the complexity involved in offering this new feature, GetCTC will not allow clients to claim EITC when it launches in May, but we will explore adding the functionality for at least some clients later this year.
This year, for the first time, Puerto Rican residents are able to claim the full CTC as well. However, they are not currently eligible to use the simplified filing process to claim the credit. We hope to see the release of additional simplified filing rules that would allow GetCTC to serve most Puerto Rican residents with our existing infrastructure. If these rules are released soon, we hope to open GetCTC to Puerto Rican residents later in 2022.
Thanks to the White House, Treasury, and IRS leadership, simplified filing has been the single biggest step forward in tax benefits access in a generation. We’re looking forward to building on what we learned from launching GetCTC last year, and we’re excited to help bring relief to more families who need it in the 2022 tax season.