Home Loans Lead To Tax Help Leads To Awareness

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The road to some product offerings can be an odd one.

Paul Grinde, for instance, was looking for ways to boost CoVantage Credit Union's mortgage volume and was meeting with a representative of a local community of Native-Americans with a goal of doing just that. But the tribal representative had something else in mind-a frustration over the fact many tribal members were paying excessive fees to get their taxes done, and then to get a Tax Anticipation Loan.

"Tax preparers were saying come on in and I'll get you 500 bucks. They never say anything about the 300 bucks they were charging them," said Grinde. "I used to mumble about the IRS, but it was real clear to me they don't believe people doing a W-2 should have to hire a preparer."

While active in serving the Native-American community, Grinde stressed the $529-million CoVantage, which has seven branches and also serves the displaced Vietnamese community, is all "about relationships. "We do nothing for the Native-American communities that we do not do for other communities."

But the word "relationship" is often used in financial services. The keys to relationships, he said, are genuine respect and interest, understanding and celebrating difference, supporting community efforts ("do not dictate community efforts"), and "listen, listen, listen, listen."

CoVantage is now active in the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, through which the entire tax refund goes to the taxpayer. The volunteers came from all walks of life, including accounting students and others, said Grinde.

Grinde noted CoVantage opened VITA sites near where filers lived, and also opened accounts at those sites, as a deposit account is required. "An eye-opener to me was a young man who came in and opened a savings account with $10 and said, 'When I want to cash a check what is that going to cost me?' The young man said he spends $15 a week cashing a payroll check, or two hours of his work."

One big positive, added Grinde, is that CoVantage budgeted very little for its VITA program, using a marketing class at a local high school where it is already involved in financial literacy, along with an art class, to handle the marketing. That effort gained local press, and Wisconsin's art director came to the school to unveil the winning marketing poster. "I don't believe there was a family in that high school system that didn't hear about the program," said Grinde.

THE VITA STATISTICS

Paul Grinde has the following tips for credit unions aiming to participate in the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program:

* ID preparation locations and site coordinator

* Recruit Volunters/preparers

* Obtain electronic filing ID number from IRS

* Set up location (prepare for equipment and software demands)

* Train and certify preparers. (c) 2006 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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