Elliot Hernandez remembers going to get his taxes done: “It cost a good chunk of change every year, when I could have been getting my taxes done for free!”

A lifelong Waukesha resident, Elliot had always participated in programs at United Way Program Partner La Casa de Esperanza, a social service organization that provides financial stability coaching.

So, when Elliot heard that La Casa ran a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site where he could file for free, he jumped at the chance.

Elliot, a father of five, learned through La Casa’s VITA site that he was eligible for both the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal tax credit for low- and moderate-income working people, and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). In 2015, the average EITC refund was $3,186 for a family with children, boosting wages by about $265 per month.

These credits significantly enhanced his annual refund. “Elliot has been working a really long time on his credit, and has made so much improvement,” says Gina Sanchez, Manager of Financial Stability Programs at La Casa, “with this refund, he was able to continue to improve and move closer to his goal of home ownership.”

In addition to making sure he got his full refund, La Casa helped Elliot create a tax refund plan to make sure he was able to use this extra income to meet his goals. “A tax refund plan has three parts,” says Gina, “paying down debt, saving, and putting a little aside to do something fun for yourself or your family.”

In addition to paying down nearly 70% of his overall debt, Elliot was able to pay some of his bills in advance.

Of the individuals who participated in United Way-funded financial stability programs, 88% increased their budgeting skills and 61% increased savings for short and long term needs. In 2017, La Casa served over 1,500 people through their VITA tax preparation program.

Elliot is paying it forward. A shelter advocate at Hebron House of Hospitality, a Waukesha-based homeless shelter also funded by United Way, Elliot directs his clients to La Casa to complete their taxes and go through the financial stability program.

Following the advice from Gina at La Casa, Elliot includes his family in planning for their financial future. By talking to his kids about why he is saving, they understand when they may not get something they want in the moment.

Elliot’s kids are helpful and even come up with new ways to save money. Says Elliot, “we are working together to be able to own our own home…they really want their own rooms!”

In following his tax refund plan, Elliot set aside a small portion of his refund to do something fun with his kids. “We are going to the water park,” says Elliot, “the kids don’t know about it…I’m surprising them. We are going to have so much fun!”

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