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Using the Earned Income Tax Credit, Oregonians may qualify for hundreds or thousands of extra dollars

January often marks a time when many Americans begin thinking of taxes, filing and claiming their returns. And while there is a chance to earn a larger tax refund, many Oregonians aren't aware they can qualify for it.

According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, many in the state are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which can put a considerable amount of extra cash in a person's pocket. Last year, the federal EITC dished out $63 billion to 5 million eligible workers and families around the country. The average amount distributed was about $2,488 for an individual up to $6,269 for a person filing who has children.

As a result, the Department of Human Services declared Friday as Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day.

"This is a national effort to reach out to individuals and families with low incomes to increase awareness of the federal tax credit and local free tax preparation help," the department's press release said. "People are encouraged to visit IRS' website today to learn more about the credit and eligibility requirements."

Oregon's Department of Human Services and the Oregon Department of Revenue are working with other state agencies and community organizations and partners to encourage taxpayers to learn more about this program and to see if they are eligible.

In order to qualify, a taxpayer must have earned income last year. That person and all other people he or she claims on their federal returns must have valid Social Security numbers. Additionally, the person filing can't use the "married filing separate" filing status, and if they claim children, those children can't be the qualifying children of another person. And the person filing must be a U.S. citizen or a resident alien for the entire year.

Those who qualify for the EITC can also claim Oregon's Earned Income Credit, which is 8 percent of the taxpayer's federal credit, or 11 percent for those with a qualifying child younger than three.

"Those who need help determining if they're eligible for certain tax credits or need assistance with filing their federal or Oregon return have some free or low-cost options," the release stated. "Some companies offer free tax preparation software and e-filing for eligible taxpayers. To see these offers, visit www.oregon.gov/dor and search for 'free tax preparation.'"

The AARP and CASH Oregon provide free or low-cost, in-person tax preparation services around the state. Locations are available at www.aarp.org or www.cashoregon.org. More information can be found by calling 211.

Taxpayers can use the IRS EITC Assistant to check their availability. However, the general guidelines are: a single person with no children making less than $15,270 a year or a married worker with no children making less than $20,950 a year can get a return of up to $519.

A single worker with one child making less than $40,320 a year or a married worker with one child making less than $46,010 a year can get a return of up to $3,461.

A single worker with two children making less than $45,802 a year or a married worker with two children making $51,884 or less can get a return of up to $5,716.

And a single worker with three or a children making $49,194 or less or a married worker with three or more children making $54,884 or less a year are eligible for a return of up to $6,431.

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