PLATTSBURGH The federal earned income tax credit exists to assist eligible low-income taxpayers though many are unaware they qualify to receive it. John C. Bernardi, executive director of the United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties Inc., joined Barbara L. Pielo, senior tax consultant with the Internal Revenue Service, in making an announcement about the credit Jan. 31, in recognition of National Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day. Mr. Bernardi is a member of the Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition of Clinton and Essex Counties, which was formed in 2003 as a measure to educate the public about the refundable tax credit available to assist those who do not earn high incomes. The coalitions mission is to not only provide education and increase awareness of the credit, but to operate volunteer income tax assistance preparation sites throughout the two counties. Due to the rural nature of our region, its very important for us to do a lot of outreach and a lot of educating so people can receive this credit, said Mr. Bernardi. This is the largest program the federal government has for working individuals and working families. We want to make sure that people are able to access this wonderful credit. The earned income tax credit is available to taxpayers in various circumstances. A taxpayer with two or more qualifying children must have an earned income of no more than $37,783, or $39,783 if married filing jointly. A taxpayer with one qualifying child may earn as much as $33,241, or $35,241 if married filing jointly. Those without children are also eligible for the credit under certain restrictions, though that is not always understood, said Ms. Pielo. Taxpayers ages 25 to 65 are also eligible if they have an earned income not greater than $12,590 for an individual or $14,590 for those married filing jointly. I think theres a misconception out there that only people who have children are eligible for the earned income tax credit, said Ms. Pielo That is not the case. That misconception is one reason why many choose not to file for the tax credit, leading qualifying individuals and married couples without children to potentially miss out on as much as $428. Those with qualifying incomes and children who also do not file for the credit could be missing out on as much as $4,716. Some people whose incomes are very low may not necessarily have a filing requirement, so therefore they do not go out and file a tax return, said Ms. Pielo. They dont realize if they had earned income, even though it may only be a few thousand dollars, they may still be eligible for the earned income tax credit. In some cases, the trained and certified tax preparation volunteers have encountered individuals filing who are too young to qualify for the credit and who forget about it by the time they are old enough to be eligible, said Ms. Pielo. Through the diligence of the volunteers, more and more young taxpayers and even grandparents who are raising a grandchild, who may also qualify, are made aware of the tax credit. The IRS estimates up to one in four eligible taxpayers may fail to claim the tax credit, so our coalition is working hard to reach out to people throughout the two counties in order to educate them about the earned income tax credit and allow them to access the services at our volunteer income tax assistance sites, said Mr. Bernardi. Free tax preparation is offered through the coalition in Clinton and Essex counties regardless if taxpayers do or do not qualify for the earned income tax credit, said Mr. Bernardi. In Clinton County, tax preparation is available at the Senior Citizens Council of Clinton County senior center, 5139 N. Catherine St., Plattsburgh. During the month of February, the site is open Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The site will be closed Monday, Feb. 18, in observance of Presidents Day. Walk-ins are welcome. In Essex County, tax preparation is offered at Adirondack Community Action Programs Inc., 7572 Court St., Suite 2, Elizabethtown; Lake Placid Public Library, 67 Main St., Lake Placid; and St. Patricks Parish Center, 17 St. Patrick Place, and Sherman Free Library, 20 Church St., in Port Henry. All sites in Essex County require appointments by calling 1-800-675-2668 in advance. Tax preparation at sites in both counties will continue through April. The Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition of Clinton and Essex Counties consists of representatives from the United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties, OneWorkSource, Adirondack Community Action Programs Inc., Senior Citizens Council of Clinton County, Office for the Aging, Department of Social Services, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, Joint Council for Economic Opportunity Inc., American Association of Retired Persons and the Internal Revenue Service. For more information about the earned income tax credit or tax preparation offered by coalition volunteers, including what paperwork to bring when filing your taxes, contact Mr. Bernardi at 563-0028. More information about the earned income tax credit may also be found on the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov .