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Credit Unions Helping Return Millions to NC Taxpayers Through VITA Program

Credit unions are known for offering lower-cost financial services in the marketplace – but their value to consumers and the ecomony isn’t limited to deposit rates and loan products. Many credit unions work in their communities to help hard-working people get ahead in life.

One such community project is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, administered in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service. The VITA program allows qualifying taxpayers (Less than $40,000 in household income, or $20,000 income for single filers) to have their taxes done free of charge. (The free tax preparation is available to everyone, member & non-member alike.)

The gem in the VITA program is the assistance that families get in receiving child tax credits and earned income tax credits. These credits enjoy wide bi-partisan support in Washington, and for good reason: they return money to people who need it, helping them to in-turn escape poverty.

State Employees’ CU and Local Government FCU have partnered with the IRS to offer VITA services to qualified NC residents in all 216 of their branches. The result so far in the tax filing season, with two months to go – more than $6-million in tax credits returned to taxpayers, and an estimated $700,000 in savings on tax preparation fees!

In the video, Deanna Yates of SECU received benefit from these tax credits after a tough 2007. A young married mother, Deanna lost her job last year and the family had to dip into their savings. This was a real setback, since their savings fund was being built up for a down payment on a house.

Deanna’s working again, and with the tax credits coming her way through VITA tax preparation, the family has put money back in their credit union savings account. Their home ownership dreams are again getting closer to being fulfilled.

Kudos as well to Truliant FCU (also detailed in the video), Duke University FCU and the NC Press Association FCU for also participating in VITA. (Edit to add that Carolina FCU in Cherryville is also offering VITA.) It’s a great program, and hopefully more credit unions will look into it in future years.       


A Tip of the Cap to the Video Age & Team Little Guy

It’s early on a Saturday morning, and here I sit drinking coffee and getting ready for the day ahead. And what a day it promises to be! More on that in a second, but this post has its roots in a short meeting I had with some really smart people last Fall.

In October, Kim Bohannon (the League’s Compliance Goddess) and I sat down with John Radebaugh, Eric Gelly and Dan Schline and proposed that we buy a video camera and some editing equipment to help the League tell its story in a new and more compelling way. I must say that it was an easy sell to make – John, Eric and Dan immediately saw the value in what this could bring to the League’s communications toolbelt.

We also saw it as a way to bring to life the people in credit unions who are busting their tails to serve their members every day. It’s one thing to read about the impacts credit unions & credit union people are having – but words can sometimes fall flat. And frankly, we (meaning stat geeks like me) can sometimes beat people up with big numbers and refined talking points, and lose sight of the impacts those numbers are having in people’s lives.

But when you can see & hear the impact a program or a product has — when you can get a flavor for the passion of credit union people … and how that passion helps members in turn unlock their own potential … you get a larger awareness of just how special the credit union movement really is.

In a few days, I’ll be posting a video here which will show a handful of credit unions that are serving as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites statewide. (Edit to add that this video is now up on the blog.) Even though it’s not central to their missions on the product front, and an added workload for staff, this group of credit unions is helping thousands of lower-income tax filers in NC get millions of dollars in refunds from the government through the Earned Income Tax Credit — and many of these folks had no idea they qualified for the EITC!

In the meantime, I am leaving in a few minutes to head to the tiny hamlet of Lewisville to videotape some of the Team Little Guy runners as they compete in a duathlon. This group of runners, which hopes to raise more than $100,000 for the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation this year, is tuning up for the Cherry Blossom Run in DC in April, and the Blue Ridge Relay Race in September. (Edit to add that a video recap is now posted on the blog at http://teamlittleguy.com/2008/02/17/video-recap-of-the-lewisville-duathlon/.)

The TLG runners are a fun group to be around, and they love raising awareness of credit unions and the Foundation through the TLG mantle. If you’d like to follow their progress, check them out on their blog at www.teamlittleguy.com.

TLG also has a Twitter page and the Foundation has a Facebook group that relays TLG info, if you’d like to keep up with them there.

In the meantime, it’s time to drain the coffee mug, shower up and head west with the camera to watch these guys. Run Little Guy Run!