By Joshua Inglada
The Financial Wellness Program at East Los Angeles College offers free tax preparation services to teach students how to manage their money.
The program has been partnered with the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and East LA Community Corporation of the Eastside Tax Coalition to continue providing free tax preparation services to students since 2017.
It can cost up to $150 to get taxes done with a standard tax company, with little money leftover in tax returns. The program offers a way to save more money in the process.
Site coordinator Alouette Cervantes-Salazar of ELAC’s VITA Tax services explained how useful the program’s services are for students, faculty and the community.
“We would love for more people to come in and take advantage of the Financial Wellness Program, because we offer workshops on budgeting, savings and spending habits,” Cervantes-Salazar said. “Credit 101, credit reports, credit scores, questions like ‘How do we even get the scores or reports? What do they mean?’ So, we’re here to help with that. The coaching is completely confidential.”
ELAC hosts on-campus days for free tax preparation once a year with the help of volunteer income tax assistants. The last day for on-campus appointments was Feb. 3.
Off-campus appointments for free tax preparation will continue for the rest of the year in the MAOF and ELACC offices. Tax preparation services can also be handled at California State University, Los Angeles.
Cervantes-Salazar said she wishes that more students would be aware of the program so they can take advantage of the services offered.
Students are encouraged to schedule appointments so they won’t have to deal with long lines or waiting their turn in a walk-in.
“It is better this way because we don’t have people waiting in lines outside. We used to have people waiting outside at 4 in the morning when it’s cold. We decided to change it to appointments this year to have a better support for our clients so they don’t have to be waiting that long,“ MOAF Financial Capability Specialist and site coordinator Elizabeth Cervantes said.
Students can also save money by using Coupon Corner, where students can go and grab coupons for food and merchandise. Coupon Corner is housed in the Financial Literacy area, where students can get budget sheets and use the computer to look up their credit scores and reports.
The affiliated organizations also offer other helpful resources for students. MAOF offers child-care services and ELACC has lending circles for people to borrow money.
“We have tools for people on how to manage their money, because we weren’t born with these habits, but yet we have these habits,” Cervantes-Salazar said. “And sometimes we don’t even think about ‘Oh, why am I overspending? Why am I not saving? Why isn’t it important to me?’ These are just questions to ask. Overall, with the program, we are not here to judge. We are here to guide.”
To schedule an appointment with MAOF, call (877) 675-5818 or visit maof.org.
The service runs between Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments will last from Feb. 3 to mid-Oct.
For an appointment with ELACC, call (323) 604-1950 or email FreeTaxes@elac.org.
The Financial Coaching Center can be found in the E1-134.
For more information, call (323) 415-5458 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.