New York City officials are urging low-income and middle-class taxpayers to file their tax returns for free or low cost to claim their tax credits with one month to go in tax season, while cracking down on tax preparers.

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz and Center for Economic Opportunity executive director Kristin Morse said Friday that New Yorkers who earned $57,000 or less last year can file their taxes for free or low cost by using the city’s tax preparation services. They can then claim tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the NYC Child Care Tax Credit.

As the April 15 filing deadline approaches, inspectors from the Department of Consumer Affairs continue to inspect tax preparers. To date the DCA has conducted more than 800 inspections citywide and issued nearly 200 violations to tax preparers who misrepresented their qualifications, violated consumer rights, or illegally advertised refund anticipation loans. In New York City, tax preparers must post their qualifications, fees and charges, and whether or not they will represent consumers at a government audit. Preparers must sign every tax return, and provide their customers with copies of their tax returns and receipts for their services.

However, the city has teamed up with H&R Block to allow New Yorkers who live in Hurricane Sandy-affected zip codes and suffered the loss of their homes, household items or vehicles to file the casualty loss form (Form 4684), which may reduce taxable income, for free at any H&R Block location in New York City.  City partners have also opened Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites in Far Rockaway and Red Hook. 

“The nearly $8,000 EITC maximum refund for qualified New Yorkers and the $1,733 Child Care Tax Credit add up to too much money to leave on the table,” Mintz said in a statement. “Go get your refund, New Yorkers, and we’ve got three easy ways to do it. Call 311 or visit nyc.gov/taxprep to connect to a free or low cost site, get a $49 H&R Block coupon or file for free online.”

New Yorkers earning less than $57,000 with or without children can file their taxes online for free at nyc.gov/taxprep. The city is partnering with Intuit Inc.’s Turbo Tax Freedom Edition and myfreetaxes.com, powered by H&R Block, to offer these services. The casualty loss form can be prepared as part of these returns. 

New Yorkers who earn $41,000 or less and have children, or individuals without children who earn $18,000 or less, can also have their tax returns prepared at one of 51 participating H&R Block locations using the city-sponsored coupon, which can be downloaded from nyc.gov/taxprep. The casualty form can be also included in this preparation option. New Yorkers who used the coupon in 2012 can return to a participating H&R Block and file their return using the same 2012 discounted rate.

Since 2002, the city’s Annual Tax Credit Campaign has increased awareness about tax credits that put money back in the pockets of working New Yorkers, and helped qualifying New Yorkers file their taxes online for free or at low cost by contacting 311 or visiting nyc.gov/taxprep. Last year’s Tax Credit Campaign assisted 100,000 New Yorkers in filing their taxes through free or low-cost options to claim more than $162 million in credits and refunds.  Over the past decade, the campaign has helped New Yorkers claim over $20 billion in federal, state and city refunds, including $1 billion directly through the city’s free and low-cost sites.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit has been the most successful antipoverty program in the nation, lifting more than six million people out of poverty as recently as 2010 and largely contributing to greater employment for single mothers,” Morse said in a statement. “For many low-income families, a tax return is the largest check of the year. With April 15 fast approaching we encourage New Yorkers to visit a VITA center to meet this important deadline, and take advantage of the tax credits they earned.”

New Yorkers with children who earn less than $50,000 or those without children who earn less than $18,000 can visit one of 90 VITA sites in New York City’s five boroughs where a certified volunteer will help prepare their taxes for free. New Yorkers who participated in the SaveUSA program last year can also visit a participating VITA site and fund their account again. 

Enrollment for new participants is closed for 2012 because there are no longer funds available, however. SaveUSA participants receive a 50 percent match, up to $500, if they deposit at least $200 of their tax refund into a SaveUSA account and maintain the initial deposit for one year.