|Credit Union :||Mountain West|
|Address :||P.O. Box 4295 | Butte, MT 59701|
|Start Date :||2006|
Credit Union Partner :
- EDTECH FCU – Asset size: $59.9 Million
- EnerGComm FCU – Asset size: $24.5 Million
- The Heritage FCU – Asset size: $15.0 Million
- Mile High FCU – Asset size: $16.7 Million
- Mountain West FCU – Asset size: $4.8 Million
VITA Site User Requirements :
- Credit union membership is not required
- Tax free filing is restricted by income; in 2008, the cutoff was $42,000
Rates, Fees, and Terms :
Provided at no cost
Vendors/Systems Used :
TaxWise is the tax software used for the VITA program. Through the use of a server, Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD) provides remote training sessions to credit unions in the state on how to use the software.
Target Market :
- Individuals and families that made under $42,000 in 2008; in particular those who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Elderly residents of Butte
Marketing Strategy :
The credit unions jointly promote the VITA service to the community with posters, statement inserts, PSAs on the radio and television, as well as through the Internet.
Program Results/Statistics :
- Since 2006, 2,475 tax returns have been completed by the five credit unions, representing $1.7 million in tax refunds
- Residents of Butte have saved an estimated $442,000 in tax preparation fees by using the credit union sponsored sites
- In 2009, over 800 tax returns were completed
- In 2009, the average EITC refund at the free tax sites was $1100, representing $155,740 in EITC refunds invested in the Butte community
Member Benefits :
- In 2009, H&R Block reported that the average taxpayer was charged $187 per tax return; by avoiding these fees, Butte citizens have saved $442,000 in tax preparation fees since the program was started
- The savings are kept in the Butte community of 40,000 people, where 15% of citizens live below the poverty line with a median income of $30,578
- The free tax preparation sites also help Butte taxpayers avoid expensive Refund * Anticipation Loans (RALs), loans that provide instant refunds, but at rates and fees as high as 700% APR. Many tax filers are forced to take out a RAL in order to pay the tax preparation fees.
Additional Information :
In the spirit of cooperation and as a service to the Butte community, these five credit unions with overlapping community charters, operate the VITA program as one cohesive operation. The credit unions train volunteers jointly, have a united marketing campaign, and during the tax season put the needs of tax clients before the interests of their respective credit unions.
In addition to the credit union sites, two “walk-in” sites are offered at a local church and the public library. Staff members from the credit unions help with scheduling appointments and some even help as volunteer tax preparers. Leah Salazar, CEO of Mountain West FCU, and her sister volunteer as preparers. “It is very rewarding to have people come back each year and request your services, specifically,” says Salazar. The service has not necessarily generated a lot of new accounts, Salazar notes, but it is provided as a community service for the residents of Butte. The rewards come from the people that are helped. She cites one older woman who it turned out was caring for her grandchildren, and as a result was able to benefit from an EITC refund. “It was a very successful and touching conclusion for us all.” The hardest part, notes Salazar, is getting volunteers. “Butte is well known for its volunteer activities, but we can always use more.”
MCUCD provides much of the technical assistance to the Montana credit union VITA program. As part of its training program, MCUCD conducted a series of “Tax Telecourses,” telephone call-in lessons twice a week for four weeks. MCUCD also offers remote training sessions on how to use the tax software, TaxWise.
To be a tax preparer, volunteers must complete at least the Basic Certification program sponsored by IRS. Annual recertification is also necessary. But Salazar doesn’t find the certification process difficult. She plans to volunteer again in 2010, “because it is a way to be involved and connected to the community.”
Additional Information :
Mountain West FCU partners with four other Butte, Montana credit unions during tax season to bring residents free income tax preparation through the VITA program.