[News Advisory] Prepare + Prosper Launches Pilot Phase of Three-Product FAIR Financial Solution to Address Needs of Financially Underserved

Organization Partners with Sunrise Banks to Issue the FAIR Products to 100 People

Cathy Kennedy, Cathryn Kennedy Consulting – 612-309-3951
Pam McCarthy-Kern, Cathryn Kennedy Consulting – 612-360-0647
Stacy Opitz, Prepare + Prosper – 651-262-2162

Saint Paul, MINN. (June 20, 2018) –Twin Cities-based nonprofit Prepare + Prosper, known for annually serving 13,000 low- and moderate-income families with free tax preparation, financial services, and coaching, announced today that it has launched the pilot phase of its three-part FAIR (Financial Access in Reach) Financial Solution. FAIR is designed to help financially underserved individuals build credit and savings and rid themselves of high-cost fees and interest by using products designed especially for them.  Prepare + Prosper will partner on the project with Sunrise Banks, a nationally chartered bank headquartered in Saint Paul, Minnesota whose mission is to help people and urban communities thrive by empowering them to achieve financial wellness.

The FAIR Financial Solution is designed for financially underserved individuals (oftentimes called unbanked or underbanked) who do not have access to fairly priced and designed products and often rely on “wealth-stripping” sources such as check cashers, payday loans, and accounts that charge excessive fees. FAIR is unique in providing a scalable approach to solving the financial inclusion gap by bundling consumer-designed financial products with fairer fees, coupled with financial coaching, and offering the products through trusted places in the community where access is lacking.

Individuals interested in enrolling for the pilot phase of the FAIR Financial Solution can visit https://fairfinancial.org or call 651-262-2173. Prepare + Prosper hopes to enroll 100 people in the pilot phase. People will be enrolled through Prepare + Prosper or through the participating distributors, which include Eastside Financial Center, Build Wealth Minnesota, or our corporate partner focused on assisting their employees, New Horizon Academy.

The Problem
Too many people’s financial situations are volatile and many lack access to financial products that work for them. One in three Americans has no savings, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, making it difficult to withstand an emergency. According to the Prosperity Now Scorecard, 33.5 million households in the United States are excluded from the financial mainstream. Of those households, 44 percent are households of color, as compared to 19 percent that are white households. In the Twin Cities, there are 254,436 financially underserved households, based on Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) 2015 data. Alarmingly, the most recent FDIC data broken down by race found that 54.8 percent of households of color were financially underserved in the Twin Cities, as compared to 15.4 percent of white households.

There are many reasons traditional banking doesn’t entirely work for people. Research from the FDIC and Prepare + Prosper show that many who are financially underserved do not trust banks, want to avoid often unpredictable fees, or don’t have enough money to maintain an account. There is also a perception that bank accounts are not for households with low incomes. More than half of those included in the FDIC report said they believe banks are “not at all interested” in serving households like theirs. According to the 2017 Market Size Study presented by Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), consumers spent $173 billion in fees and interest.

“The financial inclusion gap is a big problem in the U.S. and in Minnesota. It negatively impacts people’s economic footing, well-being, health, and more, and not enough people are talking about it,” said Tracy Fischman, executive director of Prepare + Prosper. “People need financial products and a system that work for them and not against them as they strive to be financially successful.”

“For Sunrise, we work every day to do well by doing good,” says Sunrise Banks CEO, David Reiling, “Collaborating with Prepare + Prosper on the FAIR Initiative is giving people the tools they need to improve their financial wellness. We’re setting an example for many financial institutions to follow, and working to change the way they do business.”

“We are proud to partner with Prepare + Prosper on the FAIR initiative” says Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizon Academy. “We are continuously looking for ways to support our employees and have increased our focus on assisting our employees to improve their financial health.  The partnership with Prepare + Prosper is an opportunity to support employees and their families.”

The Solution

To help families gain financial well-being, the FAIR Financial Solution, issued through Sunrise Banks Banks, will include tools to:

  • Transact through a checking account – With no account overdraft fees or monthly minimum balance requirement;
  • Save through a savings account – No monthly minimum balance requirement or monthly fees;
  • And build credit through a credit-building loan – A loan deposited and saved into a CD. On-time payments to unlock the CD can help build credit.

Also, unique to FAIR, is that these products will not rely on bank branches for delivery, but instead will be offered to people where they work or receive services, such as nonprofit organizations and employers. This delivery model is based on the input of more than 150 financially underserved consumers who participated in listening sessions, which shaped the FAIR design and structure.

Another key aspect of the FAIR Financial Solution will be enhancing technology and tools to support customers in working toward their goals and building financial confidence along the way. The technology and tools will be centered around human behavior and may take the shape of texts, apps, or social motivators to support continual savings and credit building.

The FAIR Roll-out

Participants in the FAIR pilot project will be selected from Prepare + Prosper customers, as well as those served by partnering organizations. Plans call for FAIR product offerings to expand throughout the Twin Cities and Minnesota to 500 people beginning in January 2019.

“Our community, like far too many throughout the region and country, has a plethora of costly financial services which reinforce the widening wealth gap. The FAIR Financial Solution is an exciting and welcome answer to help us move families toward financial health. We have been at the FAIR table since the beginning because we and our community are hungry for innovative solutions, and we’re delighted to be among the first out of the gate to test FAIR’s unique delivery model,” said Eva Song Margolis, Eastside Financial Center.

The FAIR initiative grew out of a call from the Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) in 2013 to convene cross-sector leaders from across the Twin Cities to increase the financial health and wealth of the financially underserved population. Among the leaders of this group were members of the banking community, nonprofit sector, and city and county government leaders. FAIR receives funding from NWAF and several other funders across the country including The McKnight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust, and Minnesota Department of Commerce.

About Prepare + Prosper

Prepare + Prosper is a nonprofit focused on building brighter financial futures for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. It provides free tax preparation; financial services, products, and coaching; and works to advance policies and practices that directly benefit the people it serves. In 2017, 532 volunteers prepared taxes for 12,648 taxpayers who received $24.7 million in refunds; 984 of those taxpayers committed to saving $1.54 million of their refunds. For more information, visit www.prepareandprosper.org, Facebook, and Twitter.

About Sunrise Banks

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Sunrise Banks seeks to radically change the way urban communities and people thrive by empowering them to achieve financial wellness. Sunrise is certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a designation earned by approximately 100 banks nationwide. Sunrise Banks is also a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, a public benefit corporation and is a certified B Corp for its demonstrated commitment to transparent corporate governance and positive community impact. Visit Sunrise Banks at SunriseBanks.com, on Twitter @SunriseBanks, or on Facebook. Sunrise Banks is Member FDIC.



Star Tribune: New program aims to provide lower-cost alternative to payday lenders

“Twin Cities-based nonprofit Prepare + Prosper and Sunrise Banks will announce Wednesday a multiyear plan to provide thousands of low-income families with an alternative to payday lenders and check-cashing operators.

The Financial Access in Reach (FAIR) plan is aimed at providing “financially underserved” people with access to a checking, savings and small-loan program at a modest cost.”

Read more.

Star Tribune: Minnesota Capitol standoff fuels worries about chaotic tax season next year

“The stalemate over taxes between Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature is fueling worries of a turbulent tax season for Minnesota taxpayers and businesses early next year.

As the Legislature’s midnight Sunday deadline for votes nears, the DFL governor on Thursday vetoed a bill that includes income tax rate cuts and brings the state into alignment with the federal tax code, which was revised by Congress in December.”

Read more.

Star Tribune: Readers Write: Minnesota Legislature and tax policy

“The article on the state response to the new federal tax law is a reminder of the complexity of this issue and the importance of focusing on core values as Minnesotans in the debate. I strongly urge our legislative leaders and members of the tax committees to support a fair tax bill that provides relief for low- and middle-income Minnesotans. Several provisions in Gov. Mark Dayton’s tax proposal would do this, including an expansion to the Working Family Credit (WFC).”

Read more.

Minnesota Public Radio: Minnesota nonprofits say grant search has gotten tougher

“It’s crunch time for Rick Terzick. The director of the Cochran House men’s homeless shelter in Hastings faces a May 31 deadline to come up with a long-term funding solution, or it may have to close.

The 32-bed shelter faced a similar dilemma late last year. A short-term agreement with Dakota County allowed it to keep operating through the spring.

Terzick said part of the reason they fell into this reoccurring financial crisis is the lack of available grant dollars.”

Read more.

Star Tribune: Nonprofit Prepare + Prosper helps Minnesota families claim $24.6 million at tax time

“The tedious annual ritual of tax preparation is a chore for many Minnesotans.

Nonprofit Prepare + Prosper sees the yearly accounting as something else — a multimillion dollar “money moment,” when families in need get some help on tax preparation and, with a return coming their way, some financial coaching on savings, emergency funds and a more stable future.

“There is no better time to think about saving,” said Prepare + Prosper Executive Director Tracy Fischman. “We really have an opportunity to focus on the financial well-being of low- and moderate-income families.””

Read more.

WCCO-TV: Nearly $16M Unclaimed In Minnesota Tax Refunds

“The Internal Revenue Service says it’s sitting on a billion dollars worth of refunds that have not been claimed. The money belongs to people across the country who haven’t filed their 2014 federal returns. There’s no penalty for filing a late return if you have a refund, but there is a deadline, and time is running out.

It’s a necessary but often dreaded part of being a working American… filling out the forms for income tax returns. But by failing to file a return, you could be missing out on a refund. Read more.

[News Advisory] Third Annual “Taxathon,” 400+ Tax Returns and $700,000 in Tax Refunds Expected

Prepare + Prosper launches tax season with 24-hour free tax prep marathon to result in taxpayers claiming Earned Income Tax Credit and Minnesota Working Family Credit

Media Advisory/Photo-op

Stacy Opitz, Prepare + Prosper, 651-262-2162, stacy@prepareandprosper.org

Prepare + Prosper is hosting its third annual “Taxathon” at the peak of tax season to provide free tax and financial services to low- and moderate-income individuals and families. The two-day event is expected to result in more than $700,000 in “claimed” tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Working Family Credit. The event is part of a state-wide awareness campaign called “Claim It!” to promote free tax services, funded by Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Friday, February 9, 2018 (Day 1)

8:45 a.m. – 8:59 a.m.  – Taxathon Kick-Off Event – includes remarks from leaders from Greater Twin Cities United Way, Minnesota Department of Revenue, Internal Revenue Service, and Prepare + Prosper along with volunteers and tax filers and ends with a countdown to launch the Taxathon.

9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Friday –– Taxathon volunteer preparers work for 12 hours

Saturday, February 10, 2018 (Day 2)
9 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Taxathon volunteer tax prep continues for 12 hours


Prepare + Prosper (located in the Court West Building)
2610 University Ave. W., Lower Level
St. Paul, MN 55114

Interview opportunities with volunteer tax preparers, taxpayers, and leadership. Follow Prepare + Prosper (@PrepareProsper) and Greater Twin Cities United Way (@UnitedWayTC, #huMNkind) on Twitter using the hashtag #taxathon.

About Claim it! –Claim it!, managed by Prepare + Prosper and funded by Greater Twin Cities United Way, is a statewide public awareness campaign to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit and free tax preparation for hardworking Minnesotans. For more information, call 651-262-2160.

About Prepare + Prosper – Prepare + Prosper is a nonprofit focused on building brighter financial futures for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. It provides free tax preparation; financial services, products, and coaching; and works to advance policies and practices that directly benefit the people it serves. In 2016, 534 volunteers prepared taxes for 12,609 taxpayers who received $24.7 million in refunds; 984 of those taxpayers committed to saving $1.54 million of their refunds. For more information, visit www.prepareandprosper.org, Facebook, and Twitter.

About Greater Twin Cities United Way – With one in four people living in poverty in the nine-county region, Greater Twin Cities United Way fights to end poverty and support long-term wellbeing by providing access to food, shelter and healthcare; education; and jobs. When we support wellbeing, we ensure everyone can reach their potential and fully contribute to our community. We do this by bringing together the public, private and nonprofit sectors to solve the community’s most pressing needs. Through partnerships, public policy work, volunteer programs, our 2-1-1 hotline, grant making and nonprofit leadership support, we take a holistic, long-term approach to help people meet their potential. That’s because we know when more of us reach our potential, our whole community benefits. For more information, visit www.gtcuw.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.



[News Release] File Your Taxes for Free at Prepare + Prosper

Nonprofit offers free tax preparation and financial services during the 2018 tax season

St. Paul – January 18, 2018 -- With tax season right around the corner, Prepare + Prosper (P+P) encourages low- and moderate-income individuals and families to save money this tax season by filing their taxes for free to get their maximum refund.

From January 20 until April 14, P+P’s IRS-certified volunteers work one-on-one with taxpayers to help them claim all the credits they’ve earned. The nonprofit also provides financial services to help people save some of their refund, get connected to financial coaching, and answer money-related questions.

“Tax time is a money moment for individuals and families with low and moderate incomes,” said Tracy Fischman, P+P executive director. “For 47 years, we’ve been providing high-quality, free tax preparation and financial services to help people maximize their tax refund’s impact on their financial future.”

Like last year, federal tax refunds will take longer for those receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) due to a law passed in 2016, the PATH Act. In mid-February, the IRS will begin processing refunds that include the EITC and ACTC, and federal refunds are expected to appear in bank accounts during the last week of February.

Additionally, tax reform passed at the end of 2017 will not affect 2017 or previous year taxes filed this season.

“There is a lot of information circulating regarding income taxes, tax reform, and tax refunds,” said Fischman. “Prepare + Prosper is here to answer questions and it’s important to remind taxpayers that free is the best way to file if you qualify, that no one can speed up your refunds, and that tax reform won’t affect your 2017 taxes.”

In 2017, 534 volunteers prepared taxes for 12,609 taxpayers who received more than $24.7 million in refunds and; 984 of those taxpayers committed to saving $1.5 million of their refunds.

Who is eligible for free tax preparation?
Individuals with an annual income $35,000 or less and families and self-employed taxpayers with an annual income $55,000 or less in 2017 are eligible to file their taxes for free.

Where are the free tax preparation sites located?

Appointment sites
Prepare + Prosper main office: 2610 University Avenue W., St. Paul
Creekside Community Center: 9801 Penn Ave. S., Bloomington
Minneapolis Urban League: 2100 Plymouth Avenue N., Minneapolis
ResourceWest, 1011 1st St. S., Hopkins

Walk-in sites
Eastside Financial Center: 965 Payne Avenue, St. Paul
Hallie Q. Brown Community Center: 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul
East Side Neighborhood Services: 1700 2nd St. NE, Minneapolis
Hope Community Center: 611 E. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis

When are tax sites open?
P+P tax sites are open at varying times until April 14. For a complete list of times or to make appointment, go to www.prepareandprosper.org or call 651-287-0187. P+P also offers audit assistance and the main office is open year-round.

What other services are offered at the tax site?
Taxpayers can open a savings account, purchase a U.S. savings, pull their credit score, and signup for P+P’s free financial coaching program. Taxpayers can also apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) at the P+P main office.

What languages are available?
Spanish and ASL interpreters are available at the P+P main office, and Hmong interpreters at Eastside Financial Center.

About Prepare + Prosper
Prepare + Prosper is a nonprofit focused on building brighter financial futures for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. It provides free tax preparation; financial services, products, and coaching; and works to advance policies and practices that directly benefit the people it serves. In 2016, 534 volunteers prepared taxes for 12,609 taxpayers who received $24.7 million in refunds; 984 of those taxpayers committed to saving $1.54 million of their refunds.


Media Contact:
Stacy Opitz, Prepare + Prosper
High-res photos of tax preparation services available upon reques

[News Release] Prepare + Prosper Joins Minnesota's Nonprofit Organizations Aligned Against Harmful Federal Tax Bill

Media Contact: Stacy Opitz, Prepare + Prosper — 651-262-2162

Photos: Download photos of Prepare + Prosper’s tax and financial services

St. Paul, MN (Dec. 12, 2017) – Minnesota’s nonprofit community, a sector that employs nearly 12 percent of Minnesota’s workforce and partners with millions, is aligned in its opposition to the harmful and unprecedented federal tax bill.

The bill awaiting passage in Congress gives the largest benefits to profitable corporations and the wealthiest at the expense of most Americans. The tax cuts add more than $1 trillion to the deficit, and to pay for it, policymakers have clear plans to come back and deeply cut health care and other critical services. The harm will be dramatic, particularly to children, retirees, people with disabilities, workers, and families.

With trillions of dollars over the next decade at risk and impacts spanning all sectors, the tax bill under consideration and the budget resolution passed earlier this fall have vast negative consequences that will affect millions of Minnesotans well into the future. Advocates agree this tax bill does not represent the values of Minnesotans, and urge Congressional representatives to reject it.

“The tax bills that passed out of the House and Senate do not amount to real cuts for the tens of thousands of low-income, working people we serve each year with free tax and financial services,” said Tracy Fischman, executive director of Prepare + Prosper. “The proposed Child Tax Credit ‘expansion’ is a prime example of this.”

Proponents of the tax bill are marketing the Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion as a tax break for families. This key tax credit is supposed to reduce poverty and support hard-working families, yet neither bill does that, and millions of children would be excluded. Specifically, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ estimates, under the Senate CTC plan, a married couple with two children making $24,000 per year would receive a credit increase of just $200, while a married couple making $500,000 would get $4,000, or 20 times as much.

“Meaningful reform to the CTC would target the families who need it most,” said Fischman. “That is parents who are who are earning poverty-level wages and not those making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. It’s essential that changes to the tax code improve financial security for low-income families, not work against it.”

About Prepare + Prosper –  Prepare + Prosper is a nonprofit focused on financial capability for low-income households. It provides free tax preparation and access to financial services and products; builds the capacity of other organizations providing these services; and works to advance policies and practices that directly benefit the people it serves. In 2016, 575 volunteers prepared taxes for 13,227 taxpayers who received $24.7 million in refunds; 1,231 of those taxpayers committed to saving $1.9 million of their refunds.