It's tax season again ... beware of the tax-prep vultures! Many for-profit companies will offer to file your taxes for free, in hopes of selling you a costly Refund Anticipation Loan. They call it "fast cash" with no out-of-pocket fees, but what they don't tell you is that the fees deducted from your tax return amount to totally exorbitant interest rates – usually ranging from 40% APR to 1000% APR! That’s predatory lending.
Here are three tips for a money-smart Tax Season.
1. Get help that’s REALLY free.
There are many places in the Syracuse area where you can get free tax prep help, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program as well as other opportunities. Here are just a few.
This year, the Syracuse Office of 1199 SEIU is opening up their free Tax Prep site to the entire community. Plus, you can get a free one-on-one credit report review with one of Coop Fed's counselors, after you file your taxes.
- Where: 250 South Clinton Street, Suite 200
- When: By appointment only - daytime and evening hours available. Call (315) 424-1743 for schedule, appointments, and more info.
Cooperative Federal Northside Office
Volunteers will be running a site at our credit union's North Salina Street Office, in partnership with LeMoyne College and Northside UP.
- Where: 800 North Salina Street (Assisi Center)
- When: Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm, beginning February 16th. Walk-Ins Only.
- Bring: Your tax documents, a photo ID, and account information (if you want direct deposit of your refund).
For a list of free tax prep sites in your area, call 1-800-906-9887 or visit the IRS Tax Prep Help Page.
2. Don’t pay for your own money.
If you e-file with direct deposit, your refund will arrive in just 1 to 2 weeks! No fees, no interest, no baloney.
At Cooperative Federal, you can arrange a direct deposit into your checking OR savings account.
If you really can’t wait 2 weeks for your refund, you may want to consider applying for a small loan or line of credit – at regular interest rates, not predatory rates. Call 315-473-0242 to speak with a credit specialist at Cooperative Federal.
We also offer credit advising, budgeting help, and other financial counseling to help you stay on track and reach your financial goals. Call our education & counseling department at 315-476-1451.
3. Make the most of your refund.
Tax refund time is the best time to save toward your financial goals – like a home, a business, or higher education. With the Matched Savings program at Cooperative Federal, you can double or even quadruple your savings through special “matching grants.”
- First-time Homebuyers (those who haven’t owned a home in 3 years) can get matching grants of $7,500 - $9,500 when they save $1,875 - $2,000.* The money can then be used toward down payments, closing costs, or other approved purposes.
- Small Businesses can get matching grants of $1,000 - $2,000 when they save $1,000.* The money can be used for any expenses associated with business start-up or expansion.
- If Higher Education is your goal, you can open a Matched Savings Account for education expenses like tuition, books, supplies, or even living expenses while you are in school. Get up to $2,000 in matching grants when you save $1,000.*
- Cooperative Federal members can also open a Matched Saving account to purchase a Vehicle if necessary for school or work.* When you save $1,000, you get another $1,000 in matching grants.
*Income limits and other eligibility criteria apply.
Call Kira Crawford at 315-473-0211 to learn more or apply. Space in the Matched Savings program is limited - so apply soon!