Ladder Up volunteers assist customers with their tax returns. | Provided

With less than a month left to file last year’s taxes, Chicagoland taxpayers can get free assistance at Ladder Up. The nonprofit provides free tax services including preparing state and federal income tax returns and helping taxpayers who are not eligible for a social security number apply for an individual tax identification number (ITIN). 

Tax preparation services are free for individuals with an annual income of $32,000 or $60,000 for families who resided in Illinois for the full 2022 year. If filing a joint tax return, both taxpayers must be present. In-person tax assistance is available at 11 sites throughout Chicagoland thanks to hundreds of certified volunteers who help taxpayers prepare their state and federal returns. 

Executive Director Phyllis Cavallone-Jurek said the nonprofit works with approximately 750 volunteers who have a background in business or finance, including recent retirees, employees who participate in their company’s corporate social responsibility volunteering program and students from local universities. All volunteers receive specific training and an IRS certification to prepare tax returns. 

“They go through training that is very thorough. … it has multiple layers, it’s pretty rigorous,” Cavallone-Jurek said, adding that even active certified public accountants or tax experts who volunteer at Ladder Up must go through training, including ethics training to protect customers’ sensitive information. 

“To say we have this many volunteers is wonderful because this is not for everybody. … taxes aren’t necessarily a sexy thing to volunteer [for],” she said. Most volunteers are motivated by helping people who typically lack access to trusted financial resources in their communities. 

Regina Gillenwater, an Austin resident who has a disability, said she has had a great experience filing her taxes with Ladder Up for the last five years. She said tax preparers explained her returns and filed them for her on-site, offering a trustworthy and convenient service. “I’ve never had a problem at all.”  

Gillenwater is one of many West Side customers who have benefitted from Ladder Up’s free services. Last year, the nonprofit filed 1,217 returns from taxpayers who live in the Austin, Lawndale and Garfield Park areas resulting in almost $2.1 million in tax refunds. 

To serve Chicagoland’s diverse community, Ladder Up has multilingual speakers who assist non-English speakers in 35 different languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Polish, Dari and Pashto. In addition, there are designated days when American Sign Language interpreters are available for people with hearing disabilities and they provide accommodations for people with other disabilities.

Those seeking tax assistance can bring their documents – social security card or ITIN, a valid form of a photo ID and all their tax documents — to one of Ladder Up’s locations for first come, first serve services. Online filing is also available through their website. 

After the tax season is over, taxpayers facing controversies with the IRS or Illinois Department of Revenue can get counseling and representation for free. 

Residents can visit Ladder Up at Unity Junior High School, 2100 S. Laramie Ave., or the McCormick YMCA, 1834 N. Lawndale Ave. near the city’s West Side. In Melrose Park, Ladder Up provides services at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Casa Esperanza, 1116 N. 22nd Ave.  To review eligibility and document requirements, visit Ladder Up’s website. 

 “If you’re eager to use our services, we urge you to go now. Don’t wait until the last couple of days,” Cavallone-Junek said.