• Avoid Draining Your Tax Refund

  • 4-10-2019

  • There are two products offered by tax preparers and lenders that can take away from your take refund. These two products are Refund Anticipation Checks (RACs) and Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs).

    Refund Anticipation Checks (RAC)

    RACs are the most common of these products. RACs work by allowing you tax preparer to receive your refund in a temporary bank account. Your tax preparer deducts their tax preparation fees from your refund. Then, what is left of your refund is put on a prepaid card or check. On average, RACs are about $30-40.

    Selecting a RAC does not get your refund to you any faster. It may be tempting to simply delay paying the tax preparation fee, but you will end up paying more and giving up more of your tax refund.

    Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs)

    The second product is a refund anticipation loan (RAL). These types of loans have largely become a thing of the past. However, tax preparers and lenders have recreated RALs to take advantage of their clients’ tax refunds.  

    Tax preparers may present a “no fee” RAL at supposedly “no risk”. However, the taxpayer borrows a small amount of money when they file the refund. This is called an advance. You are actually taking out a loan that is secured by your tax refund. Lenders charge the tax preparers fees for each RAL. Tax preparers could raise the fees they charge to recover the cost that have to pay to offer the RAL. Some larger RALs are offered with interest rates that can be high.

    Older adults should be cautious when they are offered these products and there is help. You can avoid tax preparation fees all together. The Tax Counseling for Elderly (TCE) program can provide you with free tax help for those who are 60 years old or older. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who make $55,000 or less.

    To locate the nearest VITA or TCE site near you, use the VITA Locator Tool or call (800) 906-9887. Most TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax-Aide site between January and April use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call (888) 227-7669.

    If You Cannot Afford Your Tax Debt

    Even if cannot afford you the taxes owed, file your taxes on time. Doing this you will avoid penalties and interest. You also have the right to establish an installment agreement. Also, in certain situations you can settle your tax debt for lower amount. You can request “Currently Not Collectible” status if you are unable to afford your basic living expenses. This stops all efforts to collect your debt from you.

  • Ending Veteran Homelessness

  • 10-23-2018

  • West Tennessee Legal Services Announces Sub-Grantee Milestone towards Ending Veteran Homelessness

    On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, the Jackson/West Tennessee Continuum of Care (CoC) announced that it is the first CoC in the State of Tennessee to meet the federal benchmarks for effectively ending homelessness among Veterans for its service area. A CoC is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as “a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximize self-sufficiency.  It includes action steps to end homelessness.” 

    As the Direct Grantee of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program grant, West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc. has worked in close partnership for over five years with its Sub-Grantee, Tennessee Homeless Solutions as well as the local Continuum of Care (CoC) to establish a community-wide plan to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in this area.  The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program is funded from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assist very low-income Veteran families residing in or transitioning into permanent housing and to promote permanent housing. 

    An end to Veteran homelessness means that every community will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience.  Specifically, every community will have the capacity to:

    • Quickly identify Veterans & engage those Veterans that are at risk of homelessness or currently experiencing homelessness.
    • Intervene to prevent Veterans from losing housing & divert Veterans from entering the homelessness services system
    • Provide Veterans with immediate access to shelter & crisis services without barriers to entry if homelessness does occur
    • Quickly connect Veterans that are experiencing homelessness to housing assistance & services that are tailored to meet the unique needs to help achieve and maintain stable housing.

    Homelessness is always a tragedy but is especially heart-breaking when a Veteran’s service to our country contributed to the situation. According to a survey released by the VA in May 2018, four of the top 10 unmet needs for homeless veterans result from a lack of legal assistance.  They are:

    • Legal assistance for child support issues (No. 5 for males, No. 5 for females)
    • Legal assistance to help restore a driver’s license (No. 8 for males, No. 8 for females)
    • Legal assistance for outstanding warrants and fines (No. 9 for males, No. 10 for females)
    • Legal assistance to prevent eviction and foreclosure (No. 10 for males

    These unresolved legal issues often contribute to the cycle of poverty that keeps these veterans in a homeless situation. Wrongful eviction or foreclosure may force residents from their homes, robbing them of a stable shelter. Outstanding warrants and fines can pile up beyond a person’s ability to pay, possibly leading to jail time. The ability to bring in money through a job can be hampered by the lack of a fixed address, and without a driver’s license, commuting to a job by other means can be a struggle. Navigating the disability benefits process and medical bills for disabled veterans can be overwhelming.

    The spiraling effect of these issues can lead to despair and homelessness.  West Tennessee Legal Services works in conjunction with the CoC and other agencies to help veterans with these types of problems affecting their basic needs for which there may be legal solutions.

  • Bill Reduces Costs of Expungements

  • Posted May 30, 2017

  • According to the Nashville AP, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a law that will make it easier for people convicted of mostly low-level offenses to get their criminal records wiped clean.  The law reduces the costs of expunging criminal record convictions from $450 to $270, making it more affordable.  The bipartisan measure was championed by two Shelby County lawmakers in an effort to help non-violent offenders who have turned their lives around.  The measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat from Memphis, and Sen. Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville, takes effect immediately.