Typically people think of a new year as a time of new beginnings, new opportunities and a time for trying out new resolutions. The one thing I have come to realize is the start of a new year is the beginning of tax season. While some are dreading gathering documents, preparing their tax returns and possibly having to write a check there are others who have a completely different view of this time of year.
Think about it, how many tax commercials have you heard in the last week? You hear these commercials on radio stations that are targeted toward black listeners.
Have you heard commercials where you can get an instant refund up to $9,999? Have you seen a commercial where you can bring your W-2 to this car dealership and they will get you in a new car and get your taxes filed for you? I am sure you have seen an endless amount of new tax preparation offices with ridiculous names that usually seem to have the word money in them pop up all over the place. I have even seen one in a gas station. Really? But these new “businesses” do not appear everywhere, only in the black or other minority communities.
As I drove past a tax preparation office in a black neighborhood it was extremely crowded. The office was full of black customers waiting to have their taxes filed. It is tax season. This is when many low-income black people will receive a relatively large tax refund. Since this seems to be common knowledge it appears that this is the best time to take advantage of them and make some easy money. There are promises of large instant refunds made and many times kept. Thus, many in our community do not know they are being abused and exploited in great numbers.
How many in our community do not know that this large “instant refund” is actually a loan with fees attached that will reduce the amount they are entitled to receive. We do not know that we can probably get their taxes prepared for free based upon our income. We do not know that many of the people preparing their returns have no real understanding of tax laws, the returns or sometimes even basic math they are simply relying on the computer system to ask them questions. We do not understand that we cannot really afford the car we just spent our entire refund to purchase because there will also be maintenance, license and insurance costs. We do not know. As a result, there are billions of dollars being made every year off of this ignorance and our community is suffering tremendously.
However, we cannot place all the blame on opportunist coming into our communities from the outside we are also hurting each other. You probably have seen the humorous picture posted on Facebook about men getting with women they do not see any other time of the year but tax season. While we may joke and laugh this is a very real situation. I personally have seen men who only have time for women during tax season. The even more hurting fact is many times this is the mother of their children. Thus, like the outside exploiter they are using and exploiting our women for monetary gain and usually to the detriment of our children. The fact that there are men who will do this and women who will accept it speaks volumes about our community.
It is easy to point to the abuse and exploitation that is occurring in our communities because we can usually point the finger at someone else. What we are not discussing is the neglect that falls in our own lap. It is evident that there is a serious breakdown in our family, education and community structures. However, there is also a breakdown in our church.
The black church has long been where members of the community had to come together for survival and to provide and receive wholistic care. Historically, the church is where people not only formed their faith and received spiritual care; this is also where people learned about voting and the economic impact of the black community. It seems that the church did not completely depend on the school systems and world to educate their people then and it should not now.
Since the lack of information is causing so much trouble in the community the church has a responsibility to help the community by providing this information. I understand that there are some churches that are offering some financial freedom courses. There are also some who offer tax return preparation, but this is not enough. We must do more. We need more churches working to eradicate this issue in our community. There are members of our congregations who are well informed, educated and capable of helping those who are not. Why are we not asking for our congregations to help? Our communities need us and we are not providing what they need.
We must break the tax season cycle of abusing and exploiting our community. We can no longer offer them tax preparation and do not provide them with information on budgeting or savings. We need to educate the members of our community about financial freedom, but we also need to make sure that they truly understand the financial decisions they make. We cannot just say do not go to the gas station to get your taxes prepared. We need to give them information to help them make better decisions on where and with whom they do business. Make sure they know the necessary questions to ask of those who seek to do business with them. We cannot just say do not give him your entire check. We need to empower them to have more understanding of their true self worth. We must remove the ignorance and replace it with information. This type of education is not provided in the high school or even college for most. Therefore, if the church is truly seeking to help the community and make a change in the community it should be a vehicle that brings the community that information.
Just imagine if a coalition of churches offered well publicized classes open to the community that provided them with helpful information like this. What would our communities look like if instead of people spending their entire refund in one weekend shopping buy their children the latest pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes they saved it for a down payment on a house? What would happen if more people could get their taxes prepared at the local church instead of the let us get all your money tax preparation places that clutter our community? What would happen to our communities if instead of just saying we are here to help the community we actually did?
Now I am not that naïve to think that the church educating the black community on finances will solve our problems. I recognize that we have many other problems to contend with in our churches and our community. Nonetheless, I do truly believe that informing our community could bring about some change. If nothing else it could eliminate some of the exploitation in our community.
That’s my two cents. Spend it where you like.