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Financial Literacy Matters | By Lynne Woolcott
“I had not done my taxes in seven years, and was so intimidated and overwhelmed. My taxes were a gigantic mess of papers. I had no idea where to even begin.”This statement is one the staff at St. Christopher House hears from many of its participants who come to the Financial Advocacy and Problem Solving (FAPS) Program. In fact, helping people with current year and back taxes is the most frequent initial request it gets from participants, 95% of which have incomes below Canada’s low-income cut-off.St. Christopher House is a neighbourhood community centre in downtown Toronto. The Centre works with less advantaged individuals, families and groups in the community to enable them to gain greater control over their lives and within their community.FAPS program addressing financial issues of low-income peopleFor 10 years, the FAPS Program has worked with low-income people to address their financial issues, including financial literacy and exclusion. In 2012, 2,050 people secured $3.9 million through the FAPS program by accessing entitlements (through the tax and government programs) and addressing debt issues.Through individual coaching, workshops and tax clinics, FAPS program staff and volunteers work to untangle the complex financial problems of their program participants. The program provides support in: • Reducing and consolidating debt • Accessing credit, such as student loans, along with support to use appropriately • Filing income tax • Taking advantage of savings programs • Getting out of scams • Reading the small print on contracts for cell phones and other goods.Building an appetite for financial literacy through tax filingSt. Christopher House finds that helping people with their taxes is often the stepping-stone upon which they begin to build participants’ confidence, capacity and greater curiosity about the difference financial literacy can make in their lives. The program provides information relevant to the day-to-day financial issues and decisions participants face when living on a limited budget. This information is extremely valuable as it outlines income programs, tax credits, banking services, budgeting, registered savings plans, etc. Participants also learn about the consequences (including the unintended ones) of social and economic policy on low-income people. The knowledge gained through the FAPS program enables participants to make informed decisions like for example, whether a Tax Free Savings Account is a better savings option for them than a Registered Retirement Savings Plan. Or they may learn how to start planning for retirement as a low-income person, or how disability or immigration status is interpreted by various government programs, and the implications for their own financial situation.Tax filing is an important vehicle for building financial literacy and inclusionTax filing, as a vehicle for both financial literacy and inclusion has become more important to FAPS. Increasingly tax credits are seen and used by governments as a social policy mechanism as evidenced by the Child Tax Benefit, <
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynne Woolcott is the Director of Community Response and Advocacy at St. Christopher House.
The CCFL Blog provides a platform for timely discussions and commentary on policy, practice, research and news relevant to the field of financial literacy for vulnerable groups. Contributors include guest experts and CCFL staff. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCFL.
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