January 23, 2013 | Economic Opportunity

Digging Out of the Money Hole: Tax and Financial Help for Women

By Rebecca Webber

It’s that time of year when the mailbox is coughing up post-holiday credit card statements and tax forms. The combination can stress anyone out, but it’s toughest for those on the edge of financial viability—like low-income women who are working hard to support their families. Fortunately, there are not-for-profit organizations dedicated to helping women (and sometimes men too) manage their financial life, from budgeting to taxes to retirement planning.

“There is legitimate help available,” says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Consumer Credit Counseling Foundation. “Unfortunately, the bad actors in our sector have done a good job of blurring the line between them and us,” she said, referring to for-profit debt settlement companies that charge big, up-front fees.

To find no-fee (or low fee) assistance, start here:

Get out of debt:
National Foundation for Credit Counseling

The website offers a tool called MyMoneyCheckup in English and Spanish to help you pinpoint areas of need. Or, just call the national hotline (800-388-2227) for a referral to the closest member organization near you. Most offer financial counseling and other services for no fee, or a very low fee (about $20) that can be waived if it’s onerous. Last year, the foundation helped 3 million people whose average household income was $34,809, and whose average credit card debt was $26,876. “We’d love to see people before they dig a financial hole that deep,” says Cunningham. Visit www.DebtAdvice.org

Tax-filing help:
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

People who make $51,000 a year or less can get help from IRS-certified volunteers. They can tell you about tax credits you might qualify for, and help with electronic filing. The agency also offers tax counseling for the elderly; both services are typically offered at community centers like libraries, schools or shopping malls. Go to www.irs.gov

Saving and investing:
The Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement

Find tax tips, and, for those who can think beyond April 15th, advice about saving and investing for retirement. This organization focuses on the long-term financial challenges women face, and offers education and workshops to help us plan for our golden years. Visit www.Wiserwomen.org