We’re here for you year-round with a tax help hotline and a tax legal clinic.

Client FAQs

Frequently asked questions about CEP’s client services and tax return preparation are listed below.  With other questions, please contact us via email info@economicprogress.org or at (312) 252-0280 (Option 1 for Spanish, Option 2 for English).


1. Where is my Federal or State refund?

You can track your federal refund by going to the IRS.gov website and completing the form for ‘Get Refund Status.’  This refund status page  will ask identification questions and provide the status of your refund. For Illinois returns, go to the Illinois Department of Revenue page for individuals and click on the My Refund link near the top of the Featured Topics section.

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2. What should I do if my federal tax return has a mistake?

If you had the return prepared by a paid preparer, call the preparer to discuss how to make corrections. If a Center for Economic Progress tax site prepared your return, call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 1 for Spanish, Option 2 for English).

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3. What should I do if my return has been rejected?

Between January and April, go to the location where you got your return prepared. They will be able to determine why it was rejected and correct the problem. If your site closes prior to April 15 or if it is after April 15th, and we prepared your return, call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 1 for Spanish, Option 2 for English).

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4. I don’t understand the notice or letter I received about my taxes. What should I do?

If you received a notice from IRS, we may be able to help. Call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 3 for Tax Clinic).

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5. Who can I claim on my return?

Generally, you can claim your children who lived with you if they’re under age 24 and full time students. You may be able to claim your children who are over 24 and other relatives who lived with you, if you provided most of their support. Review Publication 501 on Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Status for specific details at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p501.pdf. Check with your tax advisor or go to irs.gov website for additional information.

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6. Do I need to file a tax return if I received social security, disability, pension or unemployment benefits?

Social Security Benefits

Social security benefits include monthly retirement, survivor, and disability benefits. Generally, if social security benefits were your only income for the year, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return. However, the social security benefits may be taxable if you received additional income from other sources, including interest and dividends, self-employment and other income. To determine whether or not your benefits are taxable  go to this link: http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=179091,00.html

Note that supplemental security income (SSI) payments are not taxable.

Pension or Annuity Payments

If you receive retirement benefits in the form of pension or annuity payments, the amounts you receive may be fully taxable, or partially taxable. Check with your tax advisor or go to irs.gov website for additional information.

Unemployment Benefits

Normally, unemployment benefits are taxable. If you received unemployment compensation during the year, you should receive Form 1099-G (PDF) showing the amount you were paid. Any unemployment compensation received during the year generally must be included in your income.

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7. How can I obtain a copy of my tax returns?

Go to your tax preparer and request a copy. If a Center for Economic Progress tax site prepared your return, call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 1 for Spanish or Option 2 for English). IRS also provides copies for a fee, or you can obtain a free return transcript for the last three years by going to the IRS website.

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8. How can I make changes to a tax return that has already been filed?

Take a copy of your original return and any documents needed to make changes, such as additional income documents, to the person who prepared your tax return. Your preparer should be able to file an amended tax return for you. If a Center for Economic Progress tax site prepared your return, call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 1 for Spanish or Option 2 for English).

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9. What can I do if I am having problems with any of the following: IRS tax return examination audit, tax court case, or a levy or other collection issue?

If  the IRS believes there’s a mistake on your tax return they may conduct an audit of the return. The taxpayer is then asked to prove he or she qualified for the deductions and credits he claimed. If the IRS determines someone owes taxes, it can garnish wages or social security payments, take money out of the person’s bank account or file a lien – all actions that make it difficult to maintain good credit.

Call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 3 for Tax Clinic) if you received an examination notice, notice of intent to levy, notice of intent to file a lien, or any other notice from the IRS that you have a hard time understanding. CEP can help you understand the notices and the documents you need to provide as proof of deductions or credits claimed on your tax return.

If you don’t believe you owe the IRS money, CEP can investigate and make a claim on your behalf. In some cases, we can stop collection actions by reducing the amount owed or making affordable payment arrangements. You can also contact us if you need to file a Tax Court petition or need full Tax Court representation.

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10. Do I qualify for the adoption tax credit?

If you adopted a child during the period 2008 - 2016, you may qualify for the adoption tax credit. The Center for Economic Progress tax sites do not prepare tax returns that claim the adoption tax credit.  Gather your tax records, as well as documentation for any adoption expenses that you paid, and bring them to your tax preparer. You will also need  a copy of the adoption decree, placement agreement, and DCFS special needs determination, if applicable.

Call us at (312) 252-0280 (Option 3 for Tax Clinic)if the IRS disputes your right to claim the adoption tax credit. We can help you understand the notice and review your documents necessary to prove your right to the credit.

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 11. Who qualifies for Center for Economic Progress services?

CEP prepares tax returns in Illinois for free for individuals earning less than $30,000 or families earning less than $55,000. We do not prepare business returns for corporations or partnerships. We prepare basic tax returns for the self employed. Our tax preparation sites open in late January thru April. Click on this link, enter your zip code in the Find a Tax Site box for more information about hours and locations. CEP also offers Money Action Days throughout the remainder of the year, assisting with tax preparation for families who meet our income and complexity guidelines.

Our Tax Clinic also helps low income individuals who have a controversy with the IRS and would like to dispute their liability or negotiate affordable payment arrangements. You can qualify for a Tax Clinic representation if your current family income is less than the following thresholds:

Family Size Annual IncomeMonthlyWeeklyBi-Weekly
1 $30,350.00$2,529.17$583.65$1,167.31
2 $41,150.00$3,429.17$791.35$1,582.69
3 $51,950.00$4,329.17$999.04$1,998.08
4 $62,750.00$5,229.17$1,206.73$2,413.46
5 $73,550.00$6,129.17$1,414.42$2,828.85
6 $84,350.00$7,029.17$1,622.12$3,244.23

For each additional family member, add $10,800.

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12. I missed the April 15 deadline, what are my options and what are the penalties for missing the deadline?

If you don't think you'll make the April 15th deadline, at the very least file an Extension (Form 4868), which will give you until October 15th to file without a late filing penalty.  If you expect to have a balance due, pay at least 90% of the balance due with the extension to avoid failure to pay on time penalties.   In either case, mail Form 4868 early enough so that is postmarked no later than April 15.

CEP offers Money Action Days throughout the remainder of the year, assisting with tax preparation for families who meet our income and complexity guidelines. Paid preparers and self-preparation websites will remain available to assist late filers as well.

Regarding penalties, if you are due a refund, there are no penalties for missing the deadline.  If you have a balance due, both entities could charge not only a penalty for filing the return late (5% of the balance due per month the return is late), but an additional penalty (1/2 to 1% of the balance due per month late) for failing to pay the balance due on time.  In addition, interest will start accruing on the balance that is due, increasing the amount of money owed.  The Illinois Department of Revenue charges similar penalties and fees.

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13. I'm self-employed. Do I need to make quarterly payments or can I just wait until next year to file?

The general rule for all taxpayers is that withholding and/or quarterly payments should equal either, a., 90% of the tax expected to be due at the end of the year, or b., 100% of the previous year's tax. If your most recent tax return showed that you owed $0.00 in federal income tax, then you do not have to make any quarterly payments

If you think you might need to make quarterly payments, the IRS and Illinois Department of Revenue created a worksheet to answer this question.  You can use Form 1040-ES and Form IL-1040-ES to see if estimated payments are required.

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14. What kinds of records do self-employed individuals need to keep?

It is important to keep records throughout the year of income and expenses related to your trade or buisness. All income must be reported on your tax return, and expenses may be deductible. Detailed records make it easier to file your tax returns and can be used as proof if the IRS audits you. You can keep records of your income through receipts, invoices, bank statements, bills, business calendar, appointment calendar, log book, receipt book, inventory log, mileage log, or journal. For more information, read the IRS Publication 334, and print out our flyer.

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15. I didn't sign up for Obamacare but have heard that I may have to pay a penalty. What are my options?

If you qualify for Medicaid, you can sign up at any time.  There may be a penalty when you file your 2016 income tax return next year of $625 per person (347.50 per child) or 2.5% of your yearly household income, whichever is higher.  There are exceptions to the penalty, and you may be eligible to enroll during a special open enrollment period depending on your circumstances.  To find help in your area, go to www.getcoveredillinois.gov.

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16. In addition to the income requirements, is there anything else that could prevent me from receiving CEP’s services?

CEP does not prepare tax returns for individuals/families who have any of these situations:

  • Want to claim the adoption tax credit.
  • Received income from rental property.
  • Bought, sold, or had a foreclosure on a home.
  • If you want to take a deduction for business use of your home.

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17. I rent out a room. Can I file my taxes at CEP?

Regretfully, we cannot prepare tax returns that involve rental income. We are unable to
process your return at this time.

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18. What if I bought, sold, or foreclosed on a property?

Regretfully, we do not prepare tax returns for these cases.

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19. I received a letter telling me to apply for the EITC. What is the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) an dhow do I qualify?

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax credit for people who work and qualify by income. The income must be from taxable, working wages and does not include income from sources like interest, dividends, social security benefits, railroad retirement benefits, an unemployment compensation.

The 2017 income limits are:

For people who file as Single, Head of Household, or Widowed: $15,010 (with no children), $39,617 (with one child), $45,007 (with two children), or $48,340 (with three children).
For people who file as Married Filing Jointly: $20,600 (with no children), $45,207 (with one child), $50,597 (with two children), or $53,930 (with three or more children).
The taxpayer (and spouse) must have valid social security cards, and must not have investment income over $3,450.

If you qualify, the Center for Economic Progress can help you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit when we prepare your taxes at one of our tax sites, or online with our free filing software.

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20. How can I file tax returns for prior years?

Whether or not we can help to prepare your prior years returns during tax season will depend on the capacity of the tax site that you visit. Since it is time consuming, if the site is too busy, the manager of the site has the right to refuse to do prior year returns. Arriving early in the tax season and as early in the day as you can will give you the best chance at being served. If we cannot prepare your prior year returns during the tax season, we have days starting in May called Money Action Days where we will be able to prepare all prior year returns. We haven't set the calendar for those events yet, but it will be posted to our website as soon as it is decided. We can only prepare the current year and three previous years at our tax sites: 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014. After tax season at one of our Money Action DAys, we can help to file tax returns as far back as our software allows.

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21. How do I apply for or renew an ITIN?

Visit our ITIN webpage for information about applying for or renewing your ITIN.

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22. I am an international student who works, where can I go to file my tax returns?

Students, teachers or trainees who are present in the United States on a "F," "J," "M," or "Q" visa and who have received U.S. sourced income are required to file a Form 1040NR (U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return) or (Form 1040NR-EZ, U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens With No Dependents). This requires a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Unfortunately, the Center for Economic Progress does not require the Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. You may utilize the IRS VITA locator to determine if there are other VITA organizations near you who prepare the Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ.

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23. What kinds of things could I work on with a Financial Coach?

Looking to accomplish your financial goals this year? By working with our Financial Coaches in our Project Money program, you can learn more about the following:

  • Goal Setting Skills
  • Money Management Skills
  • Credit Building Skills
  • Negotiating and Handling Debt Skills
  • Build Healthy Financial Habits

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24. Can CEP help with creating a payment plan for my student loans?

Yes! By working with our Financial Coaches in our Project Money program, you can work with a coach who can help you create a plan to repay your student loans. CEP Financial Coaches are equipped with tools that can be shared with you to keep your student loan bills organized.

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25. Can CEP help me with establishing better credit?

Yes! By working with our Financial Coaches in our Project Money program, you can work with a coach who can help you create a plan to establish, build or rebuild your credit. CEP Financial Coaches are equipped with tools that can be shared with you to help you dispute erros and clean your credit.

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26. Does CEP handle backruptcies?

Unfortunately, we do not. The Legal Assistance Foundation offers a free clinic for individuals wishing to file chapter 7 backruptcy on their own without an attorney (Pro Se). Call 312-431-2231 to register.

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27. Does CEP work with self-employed individuals?

If you meet our income eligibility guidelines and have a small or in-home business we can coach you on how to track your income and expenses. CEP also offeres periodic small business workshops to deal with issues surrounding the tax implications of owning a small business.

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28. How can I get a copy of my credit report and score?

You can do one of two things or both!

  • Meet with one of our financial coaches to obtain your credit score and set up a plan to build and improve your credit. (See FAQ #XX about how to set up an appointment).
  • Attend one of our Money Action Day events (running montly between May and October) to see a Credit Geek volunteer who will pull your TransUnion credit report and help you consider ways to build your credit.

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29. Can I get my credit report on my own?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives everyone the right to pull one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. To pull your free credit report on your own, go to www.annualcreditreport.com. To request it by mail, go to the same website and download the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Services, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. To get your report by phone, call 1-877-322-8228.

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30. Does my score automatically come with my credit report?

If you pull your credit report with CEP, you will obtain your FICO & Vantage credit score. If you pull your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com, you will not receive your credit score. You will have to either pay for your FICO score on www.myficoscore.com or pull your Vantage Score for free at one of the following websites:

These sites also provide financial development and debt management tools as well as links to various financial products - CEP does not promote any of these products directly.

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31. Will it hurt my score if I pull my credit report with CEP?

No, All credit reports pulled at CEP are soft-pulls, meaning they do not affect your credit score in any way.

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32. What is financial coaching? Is it different from Financial Advising?

Financial coaching recognizes that changing personal financial habits can be very difficult, in the same way it is difficult to change eating, exercise or other lifestyle habits that may be getting in the way of long-term health. People may be aware of the types of changes that need to be made, but incorporating these changes into ones's daily life can be daunting. Coaches work with clients to help them understand and clearly define their personal financial golas and develop concrete, actionable strategies to achieve them. In this way, coaching puts clients in the driver's seat. The coach provides guidance, supportive resources and accountability for working towards these goals. (NeighborWorks America)

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33. What is the difference between financial coaching and financial counseling?

Coaching often builds on financial education and counseling services by guiding people through the process of applying and putting into action the knowledge they have gained through these other programs. Moreover, research has shown that financial coaching can be transformational for people, awakening them to their own power to change their financial circumstances. (NeighborWorks America)

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34. Can I make a financial coaching appointment?

To make an appointment with a financial coach sign up for our Project Money program at www.economicprogress.org/projectmoney.

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35. What is Project Money and how do I apply?

Project Money is CEP's no cost financial coaching program open to residents of the greater Chicago region. This membership style program can be completed in three months and encourages its members to develop a positive and healthy relationship to their money. Members enjoy personalized sessions with a trained financial coach, financial education workshops, and a supportive community of like-minded individuals.

Join Project Money to:

  • Set and achieve your financial goals
  • Create a realistic spending plan
  • Make a plan to pay down your debt
  • Build a savings habit
  • Get your FICO score for free
  • Get access to banking products including bank accounts, prepaid debit cards, and small dollar loans

Here are the eligibility requirements:

  • Possess motivation to improve your finances
  • Be available for a required phone interview, financial education workshops and one to one coaching sessions
  • Be employed, at least part-time
  • Have an income below $35,000 for individuals and $60,000 for families

Members who achieve their financial goals will have a chance to win cash prizes up to $750.00.

Please visit www.economicprogress.org/projectmoney to learn more and to apply for the program. Applications are accepted in the spring, summer, and fall.

Please contact us for more information at info@economicprogress.org.

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36. I saved part of my refund with a Savings Bond, but I did not receive it.

The first step is to check the status of your refund by going to the "Where's My Refund" feature on www.irs.gov or by calling 1-800-829-1954. You can generally get information about your refund 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your electronically filed return, or three to four weeks after mailing a paper return. If the IRS has processed your refund and placed the order for your savings bonds, you will need to contact the Treasury Retail Securities Site in Minneapolis at 1-800-553-2663 to inquire about the status of your savings bonds.

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37. How long will it take to get my savings bonds?

Your savings bonds are ordered after the IRS completes processing your tax return. Once ordered, it may take up to three weeks for your savings bond to arrive in the mail. If you're having a portion of your refund deposited directly into your bank account, you may receive your refund before your savings bonds arrive by mail.

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38. Did I win the $100/25,000 Drawing?

Winners of our Savings Campaign drawing are randomly selected and notified by phone or email, depending on what contact information was provided. If you have not been contacted, unfortunately, you were probably not selected. If you have any questions, please call our Program Coordinator Liz Brooks-Zak at 312-630-0266.

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39. I haven't received my CFR Focus prepaid card yet. When will I receive it?

Your CFR Focus Card should arrive in the mail in 7-10 business days. It will arrive in a plain white envelope If you have not received your card within a reasonable amount of time, please call our Program Coordinator Liz Brooks-Zak at 312-630-0266.

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40. I have questions about using my CFR Focus Prepaid Card. Who can I talk to?

Call the Focus Card Customer service at 1-877-474-0010.

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41. I noticed the CFR Focus Card is a US Bank Prepaid card. Does that mean I can go to a US Bank branch to talk to someone about my card?

Unfortunately, no. The CFR Focus prepaid card is not managed by the branch system and the tellers at the banks do not have access to your account. Please call the customer service number printed on your card, 1-877-474-0010.

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42. Where can I go for assistance when having problems paying my student loans?

To check eligibility for deferment or forbearance, go to www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org/repayment/postponing-repayment.

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43. Where can I go to consolidate my student loans?

If you are looking to consolidate your student loans, go to www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov.

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44. I have a Payday or Title loan I am behind on. Where can I got for help?

If you have one ore more of these types of loans, call LAF's (Lgal Aid Foundation) Client Screening Unit at 312-341-1070. They take calls starting 8:00am. They may be able to help you consider payment strategies.

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45. How can I apply for federal student aid?

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.gov. If you need a paper FAFSA, you can download it from the FAFSA website, you can go to Ed Pubs distribution center at edpubs.gov or call their toll-free number 1-877-433-7827. You can apply from January 1st through June 30th. You will need your prior year tax return to complete the FAFSA. Visit one of our tax sites or file for free online to get help preparing your tax return.

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46. Who qualifies for federal student aid?

For eligibility criteria, go to: www.studentaid.gov/eligibility.

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47. Where can I go to get college scholarship information?

Go to www.collegescholarships.org or www.scholarshipexperts.com.

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48. Where can I get information about SNAP or Medicaid Benefits?

The Greater Chicago Food Depository helps people determing if they are eligible for these benefits and helps people apply for them. For more information call 777-843-5416.

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