These families were also able to eschew costly paid tax preparers, who also may not be as well versed in IRS rules for matters pertaining to those with less annual household earnings. MEDA brings together a cadre of 150 trained volunteers to make this free tax service a reality.
While these numbers are certainly impressive, they’re actually just the beginning of a bigger story called “Save your Refund. Build Your Credit.”
For clients coming to MEDA — and the nonprofit’s three other Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites — getting taxes done is not deemed a one-time, transactional event. It’s considered the ideal time way to abet asset building for low-income Latinos at what has quickly become the largest free tax preparation service in San Francisco.
Lucy Arellano, director of asset building programs, explains the service-integration model as follows: “MEDA’s free tax program is the start of asset building for our clients. We always ask the question, ‘What are you going to do with your refund?’ That’s the start.”
Arellano explains the importance of other programs stepping in after clients sign their tax return on the dotted line: “Whether you want to start or expand a business, build savings, grow, establish, or improve your credit, lower your debts, or increase your income, buy your first home, enroll in a public benefit or find a job, you will have the opportunity to do that through the tax program because it is integrated with MEDA’s many other free services.”
One story of 4,200
De De Tillman has been coming to MEDA’s main tax site for a few years, solely to get free tax preparation. She came back in 2015 figuring she would just come in to get her taxes done for the 2014 calendar year. Little did she realize she would soon be heading down a new financial path.
De De’s was put on a savings plan when she received one-on-one coaching from MEDA’s Teresa Garcia. The coach advised her client to write down everything — and that means every single thing — purchased each day. That even includes smaller items such as a pack of gum. It all adds up. In De De’s case, $70 per week was being spent just on snack items.
De De got to work, knowing there was much to do, as just $25 sat in her savings account.
Today? $5,200. Plus another account for housing that is $2,100 (with the hope of a future condo purchase, now working with MEDA’s Housing Opportunities team). A Roth IRA with $7,500. Even a business account with $3,000, as De De and her daughter, Marilyn, who is also a MEDA client, want to start an entertainment business, making films about cultural diversity.
The future’s looking bright for De De … and thousands of other MEDA clients achieving family economic success, all because they stepped through the welcoming doors of Plaza Adelante to get their taxes done for free in San Francisco.
Call (415) 282-3334 ext. 178 for your appointment for free tax preparation in San Francisco.
Special thanks to the City and County of San Francisco-Human Services Agency, United Way of the Bay Area and Bank of the West for helping low-income residents do their taxes at no cost.