From Bankruptcy to Homeownership with United Way: Families
After her divorce, Christina suddenly found herself a single mother of three in deep financial trouble. When she was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2009, she decided to call 2-1-1 for advice. They directed her to a free tax preparation event hosted by the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County called CASH In Saturday. There, Christina got the assistance she needed to accurately file her taxes as well as a referral to a free financial planning program to help her get her affairs in order. Now, she is a proud homeowner.
In our latest Stories of Impact interview, Christina tells us about her proud path to homeownership and the peace of mind that comes with her new-found financial security.
How would you describe the experience of using United Way’s tax preparation services?
It was actually really nice and really easy. You call ahead, and they tell you what to bring in: your W2s, past filing records, etc. When you go in, you get a number, and when your number comes up, they sit you down with one of the tax preparers. They walk you through everything, ask you the necessary questions, and they’re always very knowledgeable. They got every dime that was owed back to me from New York State and connected me with a financial planning program.
The program taught me about budgeting and finances, how to pay off my debt, and how to pull a credit report for free and get anything off of my credit that shouldn’t have been on there or that was old or no longer applicable. So, I did that. In one month alone, my credit score went up 30 points. The benefits were immediate.
What goals did you set for yourself around financial planning?
My main goal was to buy a house, but I knew I couldn’t get a mortgage loan until my credit score was over 680. I had to pay off debt, rebuild my credit, and save up. So, that’s what I did. And in 2017, I actually ended up building a brand-new house using the money from my tax refund as down payment and toward closing costs
How has owning a home changed your life?
After my divorce, I needed my kids to have stability. We needed our own place that no one could take from us or kick us out of. Now, we have security. I am happy knowing that I’m not throwing my money away in rent. I’m actually building equity in my home. I guess it’s fun, too, that I can make any updates I want. We were talking about getting an asphalt driveway or a deck or landscaping.
Is that your next financial goal?
I’m at a point where I want to be more of a saver. Normally, I would get my tax refund and go spend it. Now, it’s sitting in my bank. So, as much as I want a driveway and a deck and landscaping, honestly, I don’t think I will do it this year, because I want to have a little cushion. We’ve never had any kind of financial cushion, where, if our car broke down or our basement flooded, we would have money to cover it. So, it’s kind of nice. I’m going to keep it in there for safekeeping and just pretend I have a deck.
What advice would you give other people in financial situations like yours?
More people should use the tax prep services. Maybe they don’t know it exists, or they are embarrassed. Maybe it’s a pride issue. I’ve talked to some of my friends, and they have a variety of different reasons. Some of them think there’s people needier than they are who deserve the service more. But if you have a family and you have kids to take care of, you’re just as needy as anyone else, in my opinion. If you meet the income qualifications, then utilize those services and put that money away for your child’s education or a car repair or something that you need to fix in your house. That’s what it’s there for.