Spanning the Region

St. Louis Residents Can TAP into Income Tax Assistance

In St. Louis, low- and moderate-income taxpayers can spell income tax help T-A-P. The St. Louis Tax Assistance Program (TAP) provides free tax counseling and preparation services for eligible taxpayers through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites.

St. Louis TAP was created by local accountant Ron Szweda to promote financial literacy and to help low-income workers receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. It is supported by financial institutions, nonprofit groups and other organizations. During the 2003 tax season, more than 500 TAP volunteers prepared income tax returns for 1,646 families, helping these families share in more than $1.9 million in income tax refunds, averaging $1,150 per family.

In 2004, St. Louis TAP will have five sites, one more than last year. The sites will be located throughout the St. Louis area and will include a children's area, financial education materials and information on individual development accounts and America Saves, a nationwide campaign to help people build wealth. The St. Louis Coalition to Promote Reputable Lending will show a video on predatory lending, and U.S. Bank will have staff at each site to open accounts for taxpayers.

For more information, call the St. Louis TAP help line at (314) 621-1996.

$50,000 Grant to Benefit Memphis-Area Hispanics

A home-buyer education program for Hispanics in the Memphis area will be expanded, thanks to a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Cincinnati.

The $50,000 grant was awarded through FHLB member National Bank of Commerce to United Housing Inc., a nonprofit affordable housing agency serving the city of Memphis and Shelby County. The agency will use the grant to add new topics to the class schedule and to increase the number of clients served, said Aubrie Rhodes, coordinator of bilingual home-buyer education for United Housing. Twenty-five people completed the course in 2003.

The program currently includes two classes on personal finance, home buying and mortgages. Participants also attend 10 hours of credit counseling. The classes are intended to provide information on the home-buying process and to help immigrants overcome language and cultural differences that may be barriers to home ownership.

"Many Hispanics are not familiar with mortgages at all," Rhodes said.

Mississippi Programs Offer Unconventional Loans

Mississippi Home Corp., the state's housing finance authority, offers several creative mortgage and construction loan programs that benefit low- and moderate-income residents.

Get on Track, a lease-purchase mortgage program, is designed for those who have no credit history or an unsatisfactory credit history. The program allows prospective home buyers to build or repair their credit record by leasing a house they will eventually purchase. The lease-purchase home ownership option locks in a 30-year adjustable mortgage rate when the lease is signed. Part of the rent is then used toward a down payment.

The Mississippi Affordable Housing Development Fund (Revolving Loan Fund) helps finance the development of housing for low- to moderate-income households. Eligible borrowers include nonprofit and for-profit developers who are interested in building new, owner-occupied houses or rental units or in rehabilitating homes or rental properties.

The Construction Lending Fund provides financing for the construction of low- to moderate-income single-family homes. Loans are available to both nonprofit and for-profit developers, with priority given to partnerships between the two. Priority is also given to projects that empower low-income families through resident management and self-sufficiency activities.

The Habitat Loan Purchase Program is a revolving loan fund in which Habitat for Humanity builds and finances single-family homes or town homes. Home buyers do not pay interest. After six months of mortgage payments, Mississippi Home Corp. purchases the loans from Habitat. This means that Habitat can replenish its construction funds in a timely manner rather than waiting for the home owners to repay the loans.

For more information on these and other Mississippi Home Corp. programs, visit www.mshomecorp.com.

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