PEEWAUKEE, Wis. -- In the latest effort to aid low-income tax filers in avoiding predatory "refund anticipation loans" or RALS, the Wisconsin Credit Union League launched last week a public service radio campaign linked to a consumer Web site.
The 15 to 30-second radio commercials carried a tagline ending "brought to you by Wisconsin credit unions."
The tax help campaign for consumers is part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance project being operated by the IRS, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, the league and AARP. In Wisconsin, 20 CUs have signed up so far to offer tax assistance with an emphasis on direct deposit and assisting the "unbanked" with steering clear of RALS.
The commercials advise members to "simply use the credit union account you already have--or open one--to get your tax refund fast and free with direct deposit."
"Two million Wisconsinites have an account at a credit union they could use for direct deposit," the ad goes on.
The league said Wisconsin CUs have been volunteering sites for the public to prepare and file the forms.
"In 2004 alone, refund anticipation loans drained Wisconsin tax filers' wallets of $32.5 million," noted Brett A. Thompson, president/CEO of the league adding, "that cost was completely unnecessary."
John Udvare, president/CEO of the $25 million First Service Credit Union of Milwaukee, said the tax preparation program, now in its second year at First Service, is working "very well and we're getting lots more people taking advantage of the service" available twice a week through April 15.
First Service has been offering the tax service in conjunction with the Social Development Commission, a Milwaukee agency that has 15 sites across the city.
The Wisconsin PSA commercials on radio follow a similar campaign and Web site started by the Montana Credit Union Network in December. That state's campaign is being run by the Network's charitable subsidiary under an NCUA grant and through partnership with Montana Legal Services Inc.
Montana currently has 10 CU-linked VITA sites now in operation, said a Networks spokeswoman. --firstname.lastname@example.org