finances

Smarter money: Financial literacy program designed to help people make better decisions with their funds

2014-02-15T06:15:00Z 2014-02-15T20:50:12Z Smarter money: Financial literacy program designed to help people make better decisions with their fundsLEE ROBERTS lee.roberts@journaltimes.com Journal Times

Molly MacPhail is on a mission to increase financial literacy in our community. Since August 2013, the 26-year-old Walden III High School graduate has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer , working with the Racine Literacy Council and the Racine Coalition for Financial Fitness toward that goal.

In March, she will begin offering a free financial literacy course for adult learners at the Literacy Council, covering topics including saving and budgeting, money and banking and investment. She is also developing a resource library of financial information at the RLC, and has updated a “Money Sense” financial education resource directory, for use by the wider community (www.moneysenseracine.weebly.com).

As tax day approaches, MacPhail has also been working to increase awareness of the two, free tax preparation programs available to qualifying Racine County residents — the IRS VITA program and the TCE (AARP) program.

“I would like to make the differences between the two more clear to the public, and provide information on where to go and what to do if you need help,” she said.

MacPhail’s work is part of a collaborative effort to increase financial literacy that Kay Gregor said fits well with the Literacy Council’s mission.

“We really stress life-skill goals at the Literacy Council,” said Gregor, executive director of the RLC. “Financial literacy ties in with employable skills, and knowing how to manage funds is fundamental to being an adult in our society.”

A greater emphasis on financial literacy also benefits everyone in the community, Gregor said. And, it reaches beyond budgeting and saving techniques.

“It’s also about becoming aware of the dark side of money management, such as scams, identify theft and being able to protect yourself,” she said.

MacPhail’s VISTA experience, which will continue until August, has also allowed her to develop new skills of her own. She’s learned how to write a grant, has been certified as a tax preparer and is currently being trained as a tutor for the Literacy Council. All of that, and more, she feels will be beneficial to her when she returns to school this fall to complete her graduate degree in accounting.

MacPhail’s passion for finance seems obvious, yet is something she came to realize by chance. It was after completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology that she was bitten by the finance bug, while working as a nanny for a Chicago couple who were both accountants.

As she learned about her employers’ careers and life, MacPhail said she decided to pursue a graduate degree in accounting. And after one year of study, she knew it was the right choice for her.

“It just clicked right away,” she said. “I love it.”

UW-Parkside VISTA project

Molly MacPhail is one of six 2013/2014 AmeriCorps VISTAS working in Racine organizations through a VISTA project coordinated by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s Center for Community Partnerships. Started in August 2012, UW-Parkside’s VISTA project was developed in partnership with the City of Racine Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency. It is part of the national AmeriCorps VISTA service program which works to eliminate poverty. For more information, go to www.uwp.edu/departments/continuing.education/VISTA.cfm.

Free income tax preparation available to those who qualify

Two free tax preparation programs are available to residents of Racine County who meet certain qualifications. Both programs are staffed by IRS-certified volunteers who can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify. All returns are filed electronically, unless special circumstances require a paper return. Each program offers its services at several locations.

The VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program offers free tax help to households that earn $52,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their returns. VITA sites and times include the Racine County Workforce Development Center, 1717 Taylor Ave. (4:30 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, through April 15); and the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St., (noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays to April 12).

The TCE Program (also known as the AARP Program) offers free tax help for all, with priority assistance to people who are 60 years of age and older. It specializes in pension and retirement issues.

TCE sites are:

* Dr. John Bryant Community Center, 601 21st St., 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, through April 3, walk-ins only.

* Humble Park Community Center, 2200 Blaine Ave., 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, call (262) 886-9612 and specify Humble Park appointment.

* Racine Literacy Council, 734 Lake Ave., 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, service in Spanish and English by appointment only, call (262) 632-9495.

* US Bank, 10005 Northwestern Ave., Franksville, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, call (262) 886-9612 and specify US Bank appointment.

* Sturtevant Village Hall, 2801 89th St., Sturtevant noon to 4 p.m. Mondays, through March 31, walk-ins only.

* Love, Inc., 480 S. Pine St., Burlington, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays, by appointment only, call (262) 763-6226.

* Graham Public Library, 1215 Main St., Union Grove, 9:15 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, walk-ins only, call (262) 994-5599 for information.

For both programs, taxpayers must bring a Social Security Card and another form of identification; all income and expense documents pertaining to tax year 2013 (Social Security Statement, SSI records, wages, pensions, interest, dividends, etc.); and a 2012 tax return. To file for Wisconsin Homestead Credit (income must be less than $24,680 to qualify), taxpayers must also bring a 2013 real estate tax bill or Certificate of Rent signed by the landlord.

Copyright 2014 Journal Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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