Press Releases


For Immediate Release
December 02, 2005  

High School Students Create Campaign to Educate Parents on Saving Money at Tax Time

(Madison) A pioneering group of 41 Menominee Indian High School students have created a “social marketing” campaign aimed at their own parents and other community taxpayers. The VITA Site Poster Contest campaign officially kicks off at 10 a.m. on Thursday, December 1 at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena. The student creator of the winning poster will be announced at the event and the poster will then become the center piece of the social marketing campaign—a type of campaign that has been used successfully in the past to promote recycling, smoking cessation, anti-littering, forest-fire prevention and other social and cultural changes.

The students’ aspirations are twofold. One goal is to greatly increase use of free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. A second aim is to greatly decrease the use of costly commercial tax preparation services. Such services charge high fees and short-term loan interest rates that can range from an effective annualized rate of 70 to 700 percent for refund anticipation loans (RALs) according to a report by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) entitled “‘Refund Anticipation Loans’ in Wisconsin.”

“Congratulations to these innovative students and Menominee Indian High School,” said Lorrie Keating Heinemann, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). “They are actively helping their own families and their community to save money. At the same time they are turning the spotlight on the high cost of RALs that are a drain on their local economy and others in Wisconsin. The funds they save through this educational campaign will almost certainly be invested right back into the local economy,” added Secretary Heinemann.

Tax preparation services often target tax filers who least can afford it— those who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—a credit designed to help the poor. Thus the services drain away dollars from the very people and communities that the EITC was set up to help.

The winning student will receive $278. That is the average amount paid by individuals in the Menominee community last year for tax filing, check cashing, and RAL loans. The total cost to the Menominee community was estimated to have been $170,000 last year. The typical RAL cost is about $130 according to the National Consumer Law Center and the Consumer Federation of America.

“We wanted to come up with a creative way to deal with a significant loss of money,” said Sharon Waukau, loan coordinator for the Menominee Tribal Housing Department. “We turned to the students and they came through in a big way. We were amazed by their posters because they understood the importance of the issue and wanted to help their community. This is turning out to be a great way to teach an important financial lesson to both adults and youth.”

According to the WCCF report, RALs have a multiplier effect on local economies. For example, in Milwaukee in 2003, the estimated $3 million paid in RAL fees by federal EITC recipients translated into a loss to the local economy of between $4.5 and $6 million in total economic activity.

The WCCF report also listed nine Wisconsin counties that in 2002 had above-the-state-average RAL usage as a percent of EITC filers. They include Menominee (51.8%), Milwaukee (35%), Racine (31.7%), Sawyer (31%), Kenosha (28%), Rock (27.7%), Adams (25.6%), Jackson (25.2%) and Dane (22.4%) counties. The RAL’s only benefit is that the recipient receives his or her refund a few days earlier than it would have been received anyway.

For more information about the Menominee VITA Site Poster Contest campaign call David Mancl, Director of DFI’s Office of Financial Literacy at 608-261-9540 or email him at david.mancl@dfi.state.wi.us or call Sharon Waukau at 715-799-5887 or email her at swaukau@mitw.org.

These forty-one students participated in the poster contest and voted to select the winner.

Shaunda Williams (holding poster) was the First Place and Grand Prize winner for the 2005 VITA Site Poster Contest campaign held at Menominee Indian High School (MIHS) in Keshena. Shaunda is shown with Emily Schwartz, a family and consumer education teacher at MIHS.