Finances and tax preparation can be challenging for even the most experienced. For many families and individuals who are also living on a low to moderate income, the challenges can be enormous.
Enter Prepare and Prosper (P&P), a nonprofit dedicated to providing free tax preparation and financial coaching and mentoring to bring financial wellness to everyone. Minneapolis locations include Hope Community (611 E Franklin Ave.) and Sabathani Community Center (310 E 38th St Ste 200).
“P&P started decades ago,” said David Langley, the organization’s engagement director. It was founded in 1971 by a group of accountants. “The past 15 years P&P has become more than just a tax preparer,” Langley said. “We have ascended into the realm of critical financial programming. We offer coaching programs and creative sponsorships with other partners, giving people opportunities for accessible banking.”
Langley said P&P helps participants get bank accounts and avoid overdrafts, having to use money orders and relying on check cashing businesses.
According to Pew Research, 70% of households in the United States are constrained by income, have limited savings and/or are challenged by debt. About 1 in 4 households are excluded from the financial mainstream. As cited by the FDIC, this amounts to more than 194,432 households in the Twin Cities. When broken down by race, statistics show that this affects 1 in 7 White households compared to 1 in 2 Black and Latino households.
P&P has a small number of staff and a very large number of volunteers, who do tax preparation or serve as mentors to participants.
“In a typical year, on the tax side of things, which is the program we most work with, our volunteers work with 11,000 to 12,000 people, coming to get their taxes done for free,” Langley said. But like almost every business, organization or nonprofit struggling to be effective during the pandemic, P&P has had to be adaptable. “COVID has affected our delivery model, and has cut that number to about half,” Langley noted. He said mentors, who provide one-on-one coaching on the banking side, are working with about 200 individuals.
“Many things, including working with FAIR products, such as checking and savings accounts and a credit builder, have been happening online the past year and a half,” Langley said. “But there are a few things where a personal meeting is better.” P&P offers participants the opportunity to get more control over their financial needs by working with FAIR products, backed up by Sunrise Bank, N.A.
The nonprofit has been as flexible as possible during the pandemic. There have been pop-up sessions, where P&P will go to some of their partners’ locations and have 30- to 40-minute tax sessions.
But there are also tax drop-off opportunities, where people can make an appointment and then drop off their documents, get them copied for the IRS-approved volunteers to work on, and later pick them up. Documents can be sent online, as well. Participants can have a combination of hybrid and virtual services if they wish, according to Langley.
He said P&P offers many options for getting tax returns done. “People need the confidence to get over their fear of filing,” Langley stated.
The organization also sends representatives out to nonprofits in the community to teach basic financial literacy to their clients. This can be done virtually or in person.
To qualify for free tax preparation with P&P, participants must have an income of less than $35,000 per year as an individual. A family with an annual income of $55,000 or less qualifies.
Langley said that most people want to get free help with their taxes, especially when they may get a refund. “That provides a natural incentive to come in,” he said. “But to get people more interested in financial coaching or banking is a lot harder.
“There are many reasons for that,” he continued. “There is a lot of generational trauma around money. Human nature being what it is, they are less inclined to talk about their finances or work on them.”
He stressed the importance of people getting banking information. “Working with those who have financial problems is challenging, but also most rewarding,” Langley said. He said he has always been happy working with people and creating community and relationships, something he is able to do in his job at Prepare and Prosper.
As well as volunteers working with taxes and as coaches and mentors, Prepare and Prosper has ambassadors, people who have gotten back into banking and are hired on a temporary basis to help spread the word about P & P’s services to their friends and neighbors.
‘We want to build our relationship with the community,” Langley reiterated. He said that anyone who wants to help spread the word or volunteer or have their organization or business be a partner in some way can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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