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Tax prep sites at CDCUs lauded by San Francisco media
SAN FRANCISCO (3/16/11)--Two San Francisco area community development credit unions (CDCUs) were the focus of recent media pieces lauding their work with the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Click to view larger image Northeast Community FCU and Cooperative Center FCU were the focus of recent media pieces lauding their work with the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs in the San Francisco area. Here, Northeast Community FCU CEO Lily Lo assists a member with free tax preparation at the community development credit unions VITA site in its Tenderloin branch. (Photo provided by National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions)
The VITA program offers free tax preparation services to low- and moderate-income consumers. Northeast Community FCU, San Francisco, was featured on ABC7 television’s “Money on Your Side" segment. Cooperative Center FCU, Berkeley, Calif., was featured in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate. Originally organized to serve low-income residents in San Francisco's Chinatown, Northeast Community FCU has expanded over the years to other low-income neighborhoods. The $10 million asset credit union has branches in the Tenderloin and in the South of Market's (SOMA's) Sixth Street corridor, historically known as the city’s Skid Row. “We have four VITA sites in San Francisco this year,” explained Northeast Community FCU CEO Lily Lo, “in our main branch in Chinatown, our Tenderloin branch, Golden Gate Church in the Richmond District, and our newest site in our SOMA branch, which opened last year,” she said. “VITA is an important service we provide our members, and with the high unemployment in California, we’ve seen big increases in people coming in for free tax preparation compared to last year,” Lo added. “Already this year, we’ve opened 30 new accounts with previously unbanked people who came to us for VITA. It’s clear that the need is great right now, and we’re happy to help them.” Across the bay in Berkeley, another CDCU, Cooperative Center FCU, is also operating a VITA site, but in addition to preparing taxes for free, the credit union is piloting a new program that offers participants affordable refund anticipation loans (RALs) for $19. “As a nonprofit financial institution, our mission centers around serving our members and our community, not just padding our bottom line,” said Gary Bell CEO of Cooperative Center FCU. “By helping these individuals and families save their hard-earned cash, we build a trusting relationship with them and hopefully they’ll come back and become members of our credit union.” Northeast Community CU also offers RALs to its VITA filers, with 11 filers requesting them to date, nearly double the total number made during last year's entire tax season. Its RALs also are very affordable. Northeast's RALs carry a maximum interest rate of 18% and no fees. VITA provides free tax preparation to households earning less than $49,000 per year, and assists low-income people in saving millions by helping them claim their tax benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a credit of up to $5,666 for the 2010 tax year. Many credit union VITA sites operate in partnership with United Way’s Earn It! Keep It! Save It! campaign. Tax refunds returned to low-income households are generally spent locally, multiplying their economic impact, said The United Way. Since 2003, Earn It! Keep It! Save It! VITA sites have generated an estimated $228.5 million in local sales, 1,057 jobs and $55 million in wages across the Bay Area. “Ultimately, we don’t do this because it necessarily makes the most financial sense for our institution,” Bell explained. “We do this because ‘people helping people’ is what credit unions are all about. It’s in our mission and it’s the right thing to do.”
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