More families than ever may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) this year, including those hit hard by tough economic times who can use a financial boost.

“Our studies show that one out of four families who qualify for the EITC fail to claim it,” said Lea Crusberg, a Houston-based IRS spokesperson. “Many eligible families are leaving hundreds of dollars on the table.”

This year changes in the law mean more money for larger families. Families with three or more qualifying children can receive a maximum of $5,657. In addition, married couples filing a joint tax return can earn up to $48,279 and claim the credit if they have three or more qualifying dependents. This top income threshold has increased from $41,646 last year with two qualifying dependents.

Last year more than 2.2 million taxpayers claimed the EITC here in Texas. More than $5.3 billion was claimed on those income tax returns.

Taxpayers should be aware that this credit is refundable. In other words, you may owe no taxes but you can still be paid the credit. You must file a tax return, however, in order to claim it.

There are many opportunities available to get free tax help in preparing a tax return, including Free File where you can prepare and file an electronic tax form via the IRS.gov web site. Help is available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in community locations across the country. To check for the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-906-9887.

You can find more information on the EITC by going to EITC Central at http://www.eitc.irs.gov . In addition, there is a web site calculator that will allow you to determine if you qualify for the credit by just answering a few simple questions. You will find the EITC Assistant at http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=130102,00.html.