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United Way Financial Empowerment Zone Announces New Programs

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Jennifer Young, State Farm; Leslie Schlesinger, United Way; and Yvonne Zuidema, President and CEO of United Way
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PATERSON, NJ - Yvonne Zuidema, President and CEO of United Way of Passaic County (UWPC), announced the return of free tax preparation assistance and the Financial Aid U program, as well as some result from  the new programs including free financial and credit counseling and ACA Healthcare Enrollment. These programs all fall under the banner of United Way’s Financial Empowerment Zone (FEZ). Zuidema, along with United Way board member and corporate partners, PSEG, State Farm and Wells Fargo, were joined by elect officials, AARP, the IRS, volunteers and clients who gave testimonials on FEZ services to community leaders in Passaic County.

The Financial Aid U program assists low-income and first generation college students and their families in identifying and accessing financial aid resources for post-secondary education.  “Access to financial aid is critical for our youth, but unfortunately many of our high school students ‘convince’ themselves out of college because of the complexity of financial aid,” said Zuidema. “Financial Aid U advises high school students on how to apply for the financial resources they need to achieve their dreams of higher education,” said Zuidema.

In addition to providing FAFSA filing assistance, Financial Aid U offers financial education workshops on a variety of essential topics related to college applications and budgeting for students.

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Free Financial and Credit Counseling Services has just become available to Passaic County residents who need this service.  Most clients learn about the service through the United Way’s VITA tax filing program when they come in to prepare and file their income taxes. A bi-lingual, accredited credit counselor is onsite one day a week to addresses the need for face-to-face credit counseling services previously unavailable in Passaic County.

One-on-one financial coaching addresses credit and debt issues. Early outcomes include increased credit scores, reduced interest payments, increased savings and the establishment of main stream banking. 

The FEZ is in its fourth year of providing free tax preparation and filing. Over 800 individuals and families used the tax filing service last year, creating over $1 million in total economic impact through tax refunds and saving in tax preparation and filing fees.   The UWPC will again be partnering with AARP to provide this service in Paterson. IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers will be available on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays until April 15 at two Paterson locations.  Fee tax preparation and filing is no longer available at IRS offices.

A third of the income tax returns prepared by the FEZ in 2013 qualified to receive the Earned Income Credit – one of the highest percentages in the state among non-profit tax assistance programs.  The Earned Income Credit is notable for being one of the federal government’s most powerful income stabilization strategies available for working families.

United Way of Passaic County’s Financial Empowerment Zone helps individuals and families increase their income, become more financially stable and achieve long-term economic independence.

AARP Tax-Aide and Vita certified volunteers provide free tax help to taxpayers with low- and moderate income with special attention given to those age 60 years and older in the preparation of their tax returns.  The AARP Tax-Aide volunteers are trained and IRS certified each year to ensure that they are knowledgeable of both the U.S. and State of N.J. tax codes

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